Chwee Kueh (steamed rice flour with salted radish)
Penny Cai’s story
Singaporean food isn’t just about the infamous chilli crab and Tian Tian Hainanese chicken rice. Singapore has a huge hawker and food court culture. It’s normal that a typical Singaporean eats breakfast lunch and dinner outside rather than at home.
What’s a typical Singaporean breakfast when I was growing up? It was kaya (coconut jam) on toast with a soft-boiled egg. It was mee siam (spicy rice vermicelli), mee rebus (yellow ‘boiled’ noodles in gravy), porridge, mee pok (flat Chinese noodles), fried noodles and so much more yummy savoury dishes – none of these boring cereals, rolled oats and even worse, Weet-Bix! Breakfast in Singapore is so much more interesting.
I can remember bits and pieces of my childhood with Grandma. We would have many trips to the neighbourhood hawker for cream cakes and one of our favourite dishes, chwee kueh. It is a really simple steamed rice flour topped with salted radish. The texture of the rice flour is rather soft and was great for old Grandma, with few strong teeth left, and a small kid like me that had a missing tooth. Grandma would always have hers with a big dollop of chilli or sambal with a kopi O (strong black coffee) and I would have mine with a Horlicks, a drink from malted milk powder, or Milo.
Chwee kueh is still one of those old favourites that I must have whenever I am back for a visit. It was my Grandma and Dad’s favourite, and now it’s my turn to keep the tradition. If I ever have a kid or kids, I hope they love this as much as their great grandma and granddad.
I miss having chwee kueh with a kopi for breakfast. I miss heading to the hawker in my singlet, shorts and thongs for breakfast. This breakfast is simple. It reminds me so much of my grandma and dad. It reminds me of where I come from. It reminds me that good food is not necessary expensive or complex.
Steamed rice flour
75g rice flour
10g tapioca starch
1/5 teaspoon (or a pinch) salt
Salted radish topping
125g salted radish*
1 tablespoon cooking oil, plus extra to grease moulds
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dark soy
1 teaspoon light soy
1 1/4 teaspoon sugar
White pepper, to taste
A few drops of sesame oil
1) Soak salted radish in water for about 15-30 minutes, then finely chop. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat, then add the garlic, stirring for a few seconds. Add the salted radish, soy sauces, sugar and white pepper. Stir fry until it all comes together. It takes about 5 minutes. Add a touch of sesame oil at the end, combine and then place in a bowl and set aside.
2) Mix 75g of rice flour, the tapioca flour and 200ml of water and set aside for 15 minutes. When ready, boil the remaining 225ml water and add to the rice flour mixture. Add salt and stir until combined.
3) Place a steamer over boiling water, then grease the chwee kueh moulds** with oil. Place them into the steamer to heat up. Once they are hot, pour the rice flour mixture into the moulds. Lower the heat to medium-high and allow the kueh to steam for about 12-14 minutes. When done, allow to cool. Use a small knife to loosen around the edges, and then spoon it out. Top with the salted radish mixture and an optional dollop of sambal.
* Salted radish can be found in Asian grocers. It needs to be soaked in water to dilute its saltiness.
* This jar of sambal is from Singapore and hand-carried here by Mum. If you don’t have sambal available, you can use chilli sauce instead, or even Sriracha sauce.
**I got my chwee kueh moulds from Singapore. You can use little tart moulds instead. Also, I used a bamboo steamer, which requires you to lower the heat to medium, or else the mixture will bubble over as it is too close to heat. If you’re using a metal Chinese steamer, the heat can remain at high.
For more on Penny’s story and recipe, see our feature story here.