I was recently invited to visit Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionery at Bedok. As the store name suggests, Lek Lim sells a plethora of Nonya cakes, affectionately referred to as “kueh”. Kueh are bite-sized snack or dessert foods commonly found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore as well as the Southern China provinces of Fujian and Canton, also in the Netherlands through its colonial link to Indonesia. Kueh are more often steamed than baked, and are thus very different in texture, flavour and appearance from Western cakes or puff pastries. Many kueh are sweet, but some are savoury. They are great to snack on at any time of the day. One of the reasons I like kueh is because many sweet ones contain coconut milk and shredded coconut steeped in gula melaka (Asian brown sugar)… mmm, yummy.
Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionery has been around since the 80s and it’s a family-run business that’s presently managed by third generation owner Gavan. There is an old world charm when you visit the store, as it is a fuss-free, functional space with a kitchen at the back where the kueh are made fresh daily at 3:30 AM in the morning, which are then displayed at the front of the store. I imagine not much has changed about the store since the 80s, so visiting it may be a trip down nostalgia lane for some. Old establishments like these are precious because they hold so much history and offer us a glimpse of what things were like way way way many years ago.
Now I don’t know what the full encyclopedia of kueh may be, but there are really quite a lot of varieties out there. Lek Lim has most of the popular ones and I was introduced to many different kueh at the store, such as: Ang Ku Kueh, Kueh Salat, Kotoh Ubi, Ubi Kayu, Oneh, Kueh Lapis, Bengka Ubi, Kueh Ko Swee, Soon Kueh, Rice Kueh, Ku Cai Kueh, etc. How many of these do you know already? Frankly I’ll fail terribly if you quiz me on these names but I can certainly point to the ones I like. (When there’s a breakdown in language, just use the basic common denominator grandmama of all languages: use finger and point. Ha!)
The highlight for me at Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionery had to be moulding Ang Ku Kueh and wrapping Pulut Inti, both of which I did for the first time ever and it was a great experience!
HERE’S A SHORT VIDEO FOR YOUS! :9 I learned how to mould Ang Ku Kueh before they were sent into the steamer and cooked for 20 minutes.
Ang Ku Kueh (紅龜粿), literal translation: red tortoise cake, is a small round or oval shaped Chinese pastry with soft sticky glutinous rice flour skin wrapped around a sweet ground mung bean filling in the centre. It is molded to resemble a tortoise shell and is presented resting on a square piece of banana leaf. In Chinese culture, the color red is traditionally used as a symbol of joy and happiness whereas the tortoise symbolizes longevity, power and tenacity. As such, red tortoise cakes are of a high cultural significance and value amongst the Chinese people. They are typically associated with auspicious occasions and are especially prepared during birthdays and religious festivals to symbolize blessings and good fortune. I remember as a child, I used to see Ang Ku Kueh (I think during birthdays or in one of those mun yuet -one month-old baby celebration- gift baskets).
Pulut Inti is a pyramid shaped glutinous rice with sweet shredded coconut topping, wrapped nicely in a banana leaf parcel. From what I’ve heard, the glutinous rice in the Nonya version of Pulut Inti is traditionally colored with a natural blue coloring obtained from “bunga telang” (Blue Pea flower). However, nowadays this flower is rare to come by and hardly anyone grows it in their gardens (unlike in the good ole’ days). In an effort to preserve the tradition of Pulut Inti’s trademark blue-colored glutinous rice, artificial food coloring is used as a substitute nowadays.
WATCH MY SHORT VIDEO! ^^ This was really cool, it’s so easy and when I have kids, I’ll totally wanna teach them how to do this.
I imagine some creative Nonya grandmother somewhere some time in the olden days must’ve decided to pluck this Blue Pea flower from her garden and added the extract to her homemade kueh. This had gotta be a wise Nonya grandmother who cared for the health of her family because in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, Blue Pea flower has been used for centuries as a memory enhancer, antistress, antidepressant and anticonvulsant.
There’s a part of me that believes Nonya kueh hold plenty of heart-warming stories about family ties, love, and a great culture. Below are some of the photos I took of the kueh from Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionery. I love the colors, shapes, textures, ingredients and flavors. They are like edible little presents! :)
Ang Ku Kueh – molded by yours truly; the glutinous skin is nice and chewy while the filling is not cloyingly sweet.
Pulut Inti – nice combination of flavors, the glutinous rice offsets the sweet shredded coconut topping nicely.
Ku Cai Kueh (chives filling), Rice Kueh (glutinous rice filling) and Soon Kueh (turnip filling) – I ended up liking all three because they are flavorful and the glutinous skin doesn’t stick onto my teeth. I highly recommend these!
Uhm~ I don’t know what these are called, but they’re steamed Gula Melaka-flavored cake. Sorta spongy but with a denser texture. I’ve always liked eating these because of the aroma of gula melaka yet not overly sweet.
Assortment of kuehs – my faves out of the lot here are the green (Kaya pudding over glutinous rice) and Kueh Lapis (the rainbow-colored seven layer cake).
Aren’t these kueh simply gorgeous? Pretty to look at and delicious to snack on. To see more, please head on over to my Facebook page (there’s a photo album on there with more pix). For those of you who can’t wait to run out and grab some of these kueh for yourselves, Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionary is open 6:30am – 6pm Mondays to Saturdays, and 6:30am – 2pm on Sundays. The store is next to Bedok North, Fengshan Wet Market and Hawker Center.
Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionery
Blk 84, Bedok North Street 4, #01-21
Tel: 6449 0815