The Nation’s Favourite – Kuih Muih

STANDFIRST: When you mention the word dessert, most people will immediately think of traditional cakes, cookies or flaky pastries. But here in the Southeast region especially in Penang, we have our own unique dessert and it’s called Nyonya Kuih. This delectable bite- sized snack comes in different shapes, colours and texture which without a doubt make a crowd pleaser.


Nyonya Kuih is originally derived from the Peranakan (Straits Chinese) cuisine. This dessert is a vital component of the Peranakan cuisine resulted from the cultural and gastronomic fusion of the Chinese and Malay cuisines. It all started years ago when the married Nyonya (female Peranakan) socialised and learned to make desserts from their Malay neighbours. The knowledge that they gathered is then intergraded with their own Chinese cooking style which gave birth to the new dessert known as Nyonya Kuih. These desserts rely heavily on the usage of local exotic ingredients like palm sugar, coconut milk and screw pine leaves which truly reflects the regional flavour of Southeast Asia.


Appearance wise, Nyonya Kuih is a snack-size dessert that is either sweet or savoury and often has a chewy and sticky consistency. Unlike most Western dessert that is commonly baked, Nyonya Kuih is mostly steamed which gives it soft, silky-like texture. Generally, they come in two common shapes which are rectangular and round. The rectangular ones are usually colourful, thick and layered whereas the round ones have sweet or savoury filling wrapped in banana leaf.


To make this teatime snack suitable for the Asian palette, most of the ingredients used are items that are readily available in this region. In Malaysia, you can find many unique kuih that incorporates local fruits like durian, sweet potato, pumpkin, taro, dragon fruits and many more. By using these exotic fruits in the making of the kuih, the dessert will have the needed natural sweetness and flavour. Besides that, using local ingredients also gives the kuih a local Malaysian identity.


Another crucial component of Nyonya kuih is the type of flour used to build the base and texture of the kuih. Rice flour, glutinous rice flour, tapioca flour and green bean (mung bean) are some of the more common flours that are used in the making of this dessert. These flours give the kuih their distinctive soft, melt-in-the-mouth yet firm texture.


With so many intricate flavours and textures to Nyonya Kuih, no doubt it has become a favourite among locals and even foreigners. These days, getting hold of authentic Nyonya Kuih is becoming a rare commodity due to the complex process of making it. However, the younger generation are taking the effort to learn how to make this dessert from their elders in order to continue the heritage of Peranakan cuisine.



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