In addition to the well-known chilli crab, chicken rice and hokkien mee, there are multitudes of lesser-known dishes that tourists and non-tourists might not be aware of when they first arrive on the shores of Singapore. Let’s start with a short introduction to the pleasure that is chwee kueh.
Chwee kueh, a steamed rice “water” cake, is of Hokkien origin and a favourite amongst Chinese Singaporeans. Chwee Kueh is a staple in most of our breakfasts, with many stalls specializing in the morning-only sale of chwee kueh, as it sells out quickly. Chwee Kueh is made by mixing together the rice flour and water. They are then kneaded and steamed into cup-shaped containers, creating the bowl-like form after being cooked. They are coated with diced preserved radish and served with chili sauce on the side.
A uniquely Singaporean culinary creation, chwee kueh (literally “water cakes”) was invented by Teochew immigrants. They were inspired by a hometown snack–steamed rice cake made with milled rice and water.
The Teochew cuisine originated from the Chaoshan region, which is east of Guangdong. Teochew cuisine has been often referred to as the cousin of Fujian cuisine. In fact, they bear so many similarities that their trademark dishes frequently overlap each other.
They used to make Chwee Kueh in clay molds in the good old days, and used to make the cake using their own rice milling. Throughout the 1970s, the popular aluminum molds were introduced because the government found the clay molds unsanitary because they often have cracks that function as a refuge for bacteria.
Making the Kueh involves lots of skill. It isn’t as simple as mixing rice flour with water and steaming the paste. The experienced Chwee Kueh hawker will always be the source of old rice to make Chwee Kueh because it has greater water absorption potential and is more fragrant. The quantity of water applied to the meal would also depend on whether it is a rainy day as humidity is also a factor in deciding the Kueh outcome.
Interested to try it out at home? Check out this recipe!
- Chwee kueh (water cake)
- 150 gram (0.33 lb) rice flour
- 1 tablespoon wheat starch
- 150 ml (10 tablespoon) cold water
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 5 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 500 ml (2 cup) hot water
- Cai po (preserved radish) topping
- 100 gram (0.22 lb.) sweet preserved radish
- 100 gram (0.22 lb.) salted preserved radish
- 4 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 whole bulb (~ 50 gram) garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon sugar
Chwee kueh (water cake)
- If using metal muffin pans, grease the pan. You can skip this if using silicon baking cups. (*)
- In a mixing bowl, stir/whisk together rice flour, wheat starch, and cold water. Then add salt and vegetable oil and mix well. Finally, add hot water and mix into a thin homogenous batter, then pour into muffin cups.
- Using a microwave: Cook for 1.5-2 minutes, or until the cake has been baked. Notice that no metal can be used in a microwave, so be sure to use microwaveable silicon baking cups or glass / ceramic ramekins if you want to cook the cakes in a microwave oven.
- Remove the cakes from steamer/microwave and set aside to cool completely before removing the cakes from the cups.
Cai po (preserved radish) topping
- Wash the preserved radish until water runs clear. Drain and then dry completely with a kitchen towel, and chop into tiny pieces.
- Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat in a frying pan, fry the garlic and preserve the radish until it is fragrant and darker in colour. Be patient, as it will take about 15 minutes to fry gentlely.
- Add dark soy sauce and sugar. Mix and cook until sugar has completely dissolved. Set aside.
- Serve the chwee kueh (water cake) with preserved radish topping.
(*) The typical chwee kue cups are made of tin and are smaller than a regular size muffin cup. You’ll need to change the cooking time if you want to use the conventional cups. Your steaming time is most likely just about 10 minutes instead of the 25-30 minutes.
Check out my related post: Have you tried Laksa?