There’s always time for a snack in Malaysia and kuih, or cake in Malay, is one of the most popular types of delicacies to enjoy regardless of when or where you are.
Kuih differ from the Western idea of cakes in that they are typically steamed instead of baked, though the term has grown to encompass many other kinds of bite-sized pastries, dumplings, puddings, and biscuits both sweet and savoury. Malay and Peranakan influences are strongest in these kuih, but cross-cultural influencing has resulted in an evolution of the recipes over time.
Highly recognisable for their vibrant colours and typically gelatinous textures, kuih become especially abundant around festival seasons such as Hari Raya or Chinese New Year as eating them is considered part of the celebratory tradition. They can be found in regular supermarkets and bakeries, but the best tend to be found freshly made daily at pasar malam (night markets) and bazaars.
Conventional ingredients in the creation of kuih include traditional staples such as coconut, gula melaka (palm sugar) and pandan (screwpine), which all lend different aromas and rustic flavours to the desserts. The type of starch used to make the kuih is also very important, usually being some form of tapioca or rice flour.
Kuih lapis tops the long list of must-try local treats as this sweet, many-layered steamed cake comes in a variety of different colours and is the most common type of kuih seen in pictures and displays. Not to be missed also is the white-green kuih talam that combines coconut and pandan in flavourful harmony, while palm sugar and coconut filling are wrapped in pandan-flavoured crepes to create the well-loved kuih ketayap.
Savoury offerings include kuih pai tee, a popular Peranakan offering consisting of a thin, crispy tart shell stuffed with thinly sliced carrots, Chinese radishes and chunks of prawn, then drizzled with a spicy-sweet sauce. Another favourite is kuih cara, which can be eaten manis (sweet) or berlauk (stuffed, usually savoury); the latter has minced meat, chilli, onions and dried shrimp baked into an eggy pastry with spices to taste.
For the ultimate indulgence, pair these delicious kuih with a cup of milky teh tarik (pulled tea) and you’ll never want to miss teatime again.
Some of the best spots in the Klang Valley to pick up these delicacies include Nyonya Colours (locations all around KL), Imbi Nyonya Kuih (193 & 195, Jalan Imbi, Bukit Bintang, KL), Kueh Cafe (Jalan Renang 13/26, Tadisma Business Park, Shah Alam, Selangor), D’ Cengkih (No. 6, Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL) and Nyonya Tingkat (locations around KL).