If there’s one dish that has been refusing to behave in my kitchen, it is chwee kueh, a steamed rice cake topped with fried preserved radish. If you haven’t heard already, it is one of the many well-loved hawker dishes in Singapore and if you haven’t tried this, you haven’t had the quintessential Singaporean breakfast.
I didn’t use to like chwee kueh very much. When I was a kid, I only had eyes for fried hawker dishes. Char kway teow, chai tow kway, you know, the obvious stuff. My love for chwee kueh only developed when I started going out with M. He loves a good platter of chwee kueh, and I guess his appetite rubbed off on me. Then, my cravings for chwee kueh worsened with our time in London. We can find char kway teow here. We can also find satay, chai tow kway and a lot of other Singaporean dishes (though not as authentic, but good enough to hold us hostage), but my goodness, chwee kueh is nowhere to be found. If we don’t go back to Singapore for a year, we would suffer from chwee kueh withdrawal symptoms for 365 days, can you imagine that?! Hence, it comes as no surprise that a trip back to Singapore is often accompanied by the mandatory eating itinerary which features chwee kueh quite prominently on top of the (as Singaporeans would say) ‘die die must eat’ list. How can anyone say no to baby smooth and tender kueh smothered in the most addictive, sweet-savoury, spicy and ever so slightly crunchy preserved radish?
I couldn’t possibly let M suffer from the lack of chwee kueh in our diet. I had enough of Vitamin Chwee Kueh deficiency too. So, I ploughed the internet for recipes and all I can say is, until today, chwee kueh was the death of me. I stirred and I steamed, only to find a worthless lump of white gooey poo on my first attempt. The rats in London will scurry away at the smell of that off-putting lump. Needless to say, the eager husband woke up to a breakfast of tantrums. Yes, I threw a hissy fit in the kitchen and cursed the recipe that I referred to to the deepest of hell. I am evil that way.
I decided to do it on my own terms, and reduced the water content to see if the chwee kueh might set better after steaming. Yes it worked, but the consistency wasn’t quite right. There was a certain flour-ish taste to it, which I didn’t like, and the chwee kueh wasn’t springy and smooth enough. Then, I had a Eureka! moment when I was in an Asian supermarket recently. I noticed that the rice flour I had purchased from Sainsbury’s was coarser and slightly more yellowish than the white rice flour found in Asian marts. I decided to try my recipe out with the Asian white rice flour instead, and this morning, it worked! The chwee kueh was delightfully springy, and much smoother than my previous attempt. The fried preserved radish (chai poh) wasn’t hard to make either, it’s a matter of seasoning it to taste, really. Over the three attempts, I have come up with my version, which M has declared to be the best chai poh he has ever had, and yes, this is my favourite too.
I was a happy girl, and devoured four precious pieces for lunch today. I’m no longer homesick and to my dear friends who have been asking me for my recipe on Facebook, I hope you will feel less homesick too.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes 10 in standard chwee kueh moulds
100g white rice flour (bought from Asian stores)
13g wheat starch
125ml water at room temperature
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Extra vegetable oil for greasing
Extra water for topping up
1. Mix flour, starch, vegetable oil, salt and 125ml of room temperature water to form a smooth batter and set aside.
2. Bring 625ml of water to boil in a saucepan, and gradually add the batter from Step 1 to the boiling water. Stir constantly until a thick glue-like paste is formed.
3. Grease the chwee kueh moulds with vegetable oil and fill each mould up till about 2/3 full. Smooth the batter out with the back of a wet spoon. Add a teaspoon of water to the top of the smooth batter.
4. Steam on high heat for 20 minutes.
5. Remove the chwee kueh moulds from steamer and let cool almost completely before unmoulding with a knife. If you unmould the chwee kueh before it is almost cooled, it will be too wet and unpleasant to eat. You may keep these in the fridge for a few days, leave them in the moulds and unmould when you want to have them. Pop them in the microwave for 1.5 minutes (works for me) to heat them up.
Makes enough for 10 pieces of chwee kueh (make more if you like a heavy dose of chai poh)
75g chai poh (preserved sweet (not salty) radish, chopped. Soak these in water before frying if you don’t want it to be too salty.)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon Maggi’s Garlic Chilli Sauce
1/2 tablespoon kecap manis
2 teaspoons sugar
1. Fry garlic and chai poh in oil till fragrant.
2. Add fish sauce, chilli sauce, kecap manis and sugar to chai poh and stir-fry for a few more minutes. Serve on top of chwee kueh.
*Note: You may not have Maggi’s chilli sauce, so tweak the rest of the ingredients according to how salty or sweet your chilli sauce is. Add more chilli sauce if you want it to be spicy, or use chilli oil to add more kick without upping the salt or sugar content.