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Nyonya Kueh in Singapore: Bite-sized goodies for any occasion

[fa icon="calendar"] Oct 26, 2020 11:29:47 AM / by Strada Visual Lab

Nothing quite hits the spot like having dessert after a savoury meal, and many Singaporeans would agree that dessert belongs in a separate, anatomically non-existent stomach altogether. We are also pretty fond of having the odd sweet treat at mid-afternoon, either to combat a bout of sleepiness or purely out of sheer boredom. Of all the available desserts and treats, nyonya kueh is a popular cuisine among many. But what is nyonya kueh, and where did it originate from?

nyonya kueh

Nyonya cuisine is perhaps one of the most prominent features of the Peranakan culture. The word Peranakan originates from Malaysia and Indonesia, and generally refers to a person who is born of an intermarriage between a foreigner and a local from the Nusantara (the Malaysian and Indonesian archipelago) region. In Singapore, a Peranakan person usually refers to someone of Chinese ancestry. Nyonya cuisine is thus a reflection of both Chinese and Malay/Indonesian heritage. 

Note: Peranakans of Malay, Indian and Eurasian ancestry are referred to as Jawi Peranakan, Chitty and Kristang respectively.


Kueh (sometimes spelt kuih) usually come in bite-size servings, making them ideal to snack on between meals or after a meal. While there are many varieties of kueh that can be purchased easily in Singapore, many of them contain common ingredients that are frequently used in Peranakan cooking. Some of these ingredients include coconut milk, grated coconut, rice flour, glutinous rice and gula melaka (palm sugar). Nyonya kueh are usually prepared by either steaming or baking.

Are you curious to find out what goes into your favourite kueh, and how many calories they contain? Check out the list below!


Kueh Bingka Ubi / Baked Tapioca Cake

Key ingredients: Tapioca, coconut milk, egg, sugar

Calories: 270 per piece

 kueh bingka ubi

What’s special: The recipe uses grated tapioca and no other form of flour, which gives the cake a soft texture while retaining the fibres from the tapioca. The mixture is also kneaded with pandan leaves and baked atop banana leaves for extra flavour.


Kueh Dadar / Grated gula melaka coconut wrapped with pandan pancake

Key ingredients: plain flour, pandan leaves, coconut milk, egg, gula melaka, grated coconut

Calories: 157 per piece

kueh dadar

What’s special: When cooked right, the gula melaka flavoured grated coconut will have both flavours coming through nicely, while retaining a moist texture. Besides coconut milk, the pandan pancake does not contain any additional sugar, which makes it the perfect complement to the sweet coconut filling.


Kueh Kosui / Gula melaka cake

Key Ingredients: Gula melaka, tapioca flour, plain/rice flour, grated coconut, pandan leaves

Calories: 336 per piece

 kueh kosui

What’s special: With a texture that’s closer to jelly than cake, kueh kosui is the ultimate sweet treat. The trick to getting the wobbly texture is adding the hot gula melaka syrup directly to the tapioca flour. The lightly salted grated coconut serves to both complement and enhance the sweetness of the palm sugar, which, being a key ingredient in the kueh, only means that the kueh will taste as good as the quality of the palm sugar used in the recipe.


Kueh Lopes / Glutinous rice cakes with grated coconut and gula melaka

Key Ingredients: glutinous rice, pandan leaves, grated coconut, gula melaka

Calories: 121 per piece

 kueh lopes

What’s special: Kueh lopes usually come in triangular-shaped pieces that can make a pretty hefty snack. The glutinous rice is cooked in pandan juice before it’s steamed, rolled in grated coconut and then drizzled with gula melaka syrup.


Kueh Salat / Kaya custard and glutinous rice cake

Key Ingredients: glutinous rice, coconut milk, egg, pandan leaves

Calories: 157 per piece

kueh salat

What’s special: Any kaya toast fan would instantly recognise the taste of the smooth, custard-like layer that sits atop the soft and sticky glutinous rice. The blue colouring that is sometimes seen in the glutinous rice layer comes from the blue pea flower that is added before the steaming process.


Kueh Lapis Sagu / Rainbow layer cake

Key Ingredients: tapioca flour, sago flour, food colouring

Calories: 120 per piece

 kueh lapis sagu

What’s special: A favourite especially among young children, nothing is more satisfying than eating a lapis sagu by peeling off a layer at a time. While each layer doesn’t taste distinctively different from the other, this dessert is painstakingly made one layer at a time.


Lemper Udang / Spicy dried shrimp wrapped in glutinous rice

Key Ingredients: glutinous rice, coconut milk, dried shrimp, chilli, grated coconut, banana leaves

Calories: 190 per piece

 lemper udang

What’s special: The only savoury snack on this list, lemper udang consists of spicy dried shrimp sambal (otherwise known as hebi hiam) wrapped first in glutinous rice then banana leaf, and grilled to release the fragrance from the leaves. Best of all, the dried shrimp sambal also tastes great in a sandwich or on rice, making it one of the most versatile fillings in nyonya cuisine.


Ondeh Ondeh / glutinous rice balls with palm sugar filling

Key Ingredients: glutinous rice flour, tapioca flour, grated coconut, gula melaka

Calories: 18 per ball

 ondeh ondeh

What’s special: Similar to how tang yuan (Chinese rice balls) are prepared, ondeh ondeh are made by wrapping a cube of palm sugar with flour. The balls are then rolled in grated coconut, and the result of that is a potentially explosive experience in your mouth. Be careful on that first bite, lest you end up choking on the palm sugar syrup!


Other articles you may like:

Food For Your Eyes

5 Trendy Foods That You Can Make At Home

5 Quick Ways to Improve Nutrition in the Elderly


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Topics: Wellness

Strada Visual Lab

Written by Strada Visual Lab

Strada is a creative agency that specialises in content production and marketing services. Our data and results-driven team of designers, writers and developers focus on building brands by having a 360 approach, from conception to production.

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