Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionery

Ang Ku Kueh (红龟糕 - Red Tortoise Cakes), something that most of us have grown up with but has eventually got overshadowed by prettier desserts such as entremets, chocolates and even macarons. Kuehs has now been defined to be "Bengawan Solo" after the opening of many branches around Singapore, convenient within our reach; and over time we have long forgotten the laborious task of making kuehs from scratch and by hand. Frankly speaking, having organised a baby shower a few months ago, it is sad to hear that most of my friends have grown to live without this sweet treat and eventually not like it anymore.

Waiting to be steamed
Ang Ku Kueh as well as Nonya Kueh looks seemingly similar in most of the market or neighbourhood confectioneries, I haven't really pay attention to how good it can be and one of the better ones I have tried would be a shop in Alexandra. Believe it or not, I was craving for Peanut Ang Ku Kueh and Peng Kueh during my pregnancy but because it is so rare to find good ones and that all taste about the same to me, I just make do with what Yuan can find, be it from a humble shop in food centres or gifts from baby showers.

Freshly out from the steamer
For overseas readers who are curious what Ang Ku Kuehs are, it is basically a small glutinous rice flour pastry with sweet filling such as mung bean, peanut or coconut in the centre. The Chinese often associate longevity with tortoise and hence eating these tortoise shells-like kueh are considered auspicious items. Interestingly, if these are presented as gifts during baby showers, it will tell you the gender of the newborn. For obvious reasons, the pointed ones symbolises the birth of a baby boy while the flattened ones for baby girls.

Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionery
Hence, when I received an invitation from Gavin to visit a traditional nyonya cake shop that has been around for the past 30 years. I was simply delighted. Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionary started off in a home kitchen in 1968 before moving to a proper shop in Bedok in 1987 which is also the time when they started making Ang Ku Kueh. However, during that time, this shop only serves as a manufacturing platform and the Ang Ku Kueh are distributed to small retailers for sale. In other words, Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionery has spent many years optimising their recipe and their reputation is built by word-of-mouth. They only started selling their Ang Ku Kueh and Nonya Kuehs when Gavin's mum took over this shop in the 90s.
Savoury Kueh
To increase the variety of what this shop offers, they introduced savoury kueh such as Peng Kueh (Glutinous Rice Cake), Ku Chai Kueh (Steamed Chive Dumplings) and Soon Kueh (Steamed Turnip Dumplings); and also Malay fritters in recent years.
Moulding them into shape
This shop places strong emphasis of freshness and hand-made; and we were very lucky to have some hand-ons, wrapping the Ang Ku Kueh with the respective fillings. Talking about hand-made, I am sure some of my readers would have remembered a variety show, Man versus Machine (妙手钢厨), hosted by Cai Lilian (蔡礼莲) where the show mentions about efficiency and quality. Well, there is definitely inconsistency when we talk about things that are hand-made and Lek Lim's Ang Ku Kueh makes no exception.
Ang Ku Kueh Filling
Wrapping the Ang Ku Kueh looks seemingly easy but to have an even and thin skin makes it very difficult for newbies like us. In addition, the glutinous dough is prepared everyday, 5am in morning by Gavin's mother and how soft and chewy depends greatly on the kneading process and of course, the recipe itself.
Kueh Making
Next up, wrapping Pulut Inti in the banana leaf. Yuan adores the glutinous rice, sticky yet the individual grain of rice can be felt distinctively. In addition, each bite has fragrance from both the coconut milk and brown sugar.
Yuan wrapping the Pulut Inti
It is amazing the amount of kueh this shop churns out everyday and Gavin never seems to run out of things to show us how the kueh are being made.

Hand-made Kueh
In general, the fillings for the Ang Ku Kueh are coarse and generous, providing a crunch with every portion of the chewy skin. While Yuan prefers his peanut to be loosely packed with sugar, I gave a huge thumbs up to the peanut filling for being a thick, rich and crunchy peanut paste. Indeed something very different from what I had previously. As for the skin, there is a slight inconsistency, the peanut ones for that day was simply divine... In short, generous crunchy peanuts filling with soft chewy skin.

However,  the skin for the Mung Bean ones were too thick to my liking. Apart from the Peanut Ang Ku Kueh, Kueh Lapis is my next favourite for the soft and chewy texture.

No prizes for guessing it right, Yuan's favourite among the selection is the Kueh Salat. I think he can gobble up the entire tray of glutinous rice.
Lek Lim's Nonya Kueh

Thumbs up to the soft, springy skin for the Soon Kueh and Ku Chai Kueh, though I would have prefer more filling for the Soon Kueh. As for the Peng Kueh, this has been something I eat regularly and the fragrance of the rice filling falls short in my expectation. 

Lek Lim's Savoury Kueh

Kueh making is a dying trade and given how laborious it is to handcraft them, we are seeing less of it being hand-made.

To a certain extent, Lek Lim's Kueh has a nostalgic taste for me and in general, better than the ones made in factories. Though most people would have conveniently make do with what is available in big names such as Bengawan Solo, the experience is different eating Lek Lim's Nonya Kueh. For me, when I peel the individual layers of the colourful Kueh Lapis, I can't help to think of those days when I return home from the market with my grandmother.

Also, if you happen to be in Bedok area, don't give the piping hot spring rolls amiss. If you are wondering where are the photos of those spring rolls, well they didn't make it safely back home. We finished all up on our way back.

Lek Lim Nonya Cake Confectionery
Block 84 Bedok North Street 4
Singapore 460084
Tel: 6449 0815

Operating hours:
4am to 6pm (Monday to Saturday)
4am to 2pm (Sunday)


Gavan Sing said...

Hi Fen and Yuan, thanks for the post. Glad that you enjoyed the kuehs. I appreciate the comment on some of the kueh falling short of expectation, let me research more on how to make them better and hopefully spread the love for kueh wider.

tocksuan said...

Hope their kuehs are much larger than those by Bengawan.. hehe..
Notice in the pic that they dun use scales to ensure every kueh is of the same size..

yojo said...

Do they offer any classes in making kueh? Would be good if they did....

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