ANG KU KUEH
Resembling a glossy jewel embossed with intricate designs and decorative panels, this traditional Chinese delicacy is a common sight across markets and treat shops across East and Southeast Asia. Literally translated from Hokkien Chinese as ‘red tortoise cake’, ang ku kueh is meant to look like an ornate tortoise shell that’s often steamed and served on a strip of banana leaf (in Southeast Asia!).
Like other phenomena that migrated through diverse cultures over the last few centuries, it’s hard to identify an exact origin for ang ku kueh. A common misconception is that this dessert is a Peranakan* recipe; culinary historians actually believe that this cake originated in Southern Fujian, China and was brought to Southeast Asia by migrant workers! The dessert was and continues to be gifted to people celebrating milestones or on special occasions, and featuring as vibrant offerings to Buddhist or Taoist deities during festivals.
Ang ku kueh consists of two primary components; the velvety or crumbly filling and the chewy skin. After the filling is balled up and wrapped in a thin layer of coloured glutinous rice dough, the portion is pressed into a wooden mold to shape it with its distinct tortoise shell motifs.
The types of filling you can find run the gamut, from velvety pastes to drier and more crumbly variations in a wide range of comforting flavours. The most traditional recipes use red bean, mung bean or lotus seed paste, all of which have bold, round flavours and a thick, jammy consistency. Other popular fillings include rich and roasty black sesame or peanut paste, and regional variants in Singapore often use yam or kaya.
Ang ku kueh waffles!
Singaporeans generally enjoy the variant with chewy skin that’s pretty similar to mochi and other Southeast Asian glutinous rice-based desserts. While ang ku kueh is most commonly a bright crimson, you can find jewel-toned orange, green and purple versions too! In Singapore, you can find plenty of kuih (sweet snack) stalls that stock a few flavours in hawker centres and food courts in neighbourhood malls. We even came across a cafe that serves a modern take that’s pressed in a waffle-maker, which gave the still-chewy treat a crisp waffle shell that paired perfectly with a side of ice cream!
*The term ‘Peranakan’ or ‘Baba-Nyonya’ refers to the ethnic group and culture that descended from unions between Chinese migrants and Nusantara (Malay Archipelago) natives.