Malaysia is a land of diversity and many cultures. The population comprises many unique ethnic groups. With such diverse cultures come amazing cuisine of different kinds. Malaysia is famous for its various dishes and foods, and one of the most popular are the kuih (or kueh). Kuih is the Malay word for small bite-sized cakes (or pastries, whichever you prefer to call it) in Malaysia. These delicacies come in different shapes, colours, designs, and textures. They can be sweet or savoury or having a certain flavour depending on the ingredients. Many kuihs are sticky and glutinous, but some are deep-fried and crispy. In this article, we will talk about the uniquely Malaysian version of the ang-ku kuih.
The Ang-Ku Kuih’s Origin
The tortoise shell shaped ang-ku traces back to centuries ago in the southern province of Fujian, China. You see, Chinese mythology considered the tortoise as one of the most auspicious animals because of its long lifespan. Therefore, the tortoise was a symbol of longevity, prosperity, and wealth. In Chinese tradition, people would offer many things to their deities in hopes for blessings in return. Sadly, tortoises were one of the things that they would offer. Eventually, when faced a shortage of tortoises, they started making tortoise-shaped kuihs as a substitute for their rituals. Thus, the origin of the ang-ku kuih.
Preparation Of The Ang-Ku Kuih
Many Chinese people migrated southwards in the 19th century, which is why the ang-ku kuih can be found in Southeast Asian countries. Today, you can find this kuih in many countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, China, Taiwan and southern Thailand provinces. This chewy delicacy is made up of two components: the skin and the filling.
1. The Ingredients
The skin (outer wrapping) is mostly made from glutinous rice flour, mashed sweet potato, sugar, water, oil, and wheat starch. Food colouring is an added option. Mix these ingredients together to form a sticky dough. Then there’s the sweet filling that’s in the centre of the kuih. Traditionally, the ingredients for the filling comprise of mung bean paste and/or grounded peanuts and sugar.
2. Wrapping And Steaming The Kuih
Firstly, the filling and the dough must be proportionally divided. Next, combine the filling with the dough, and roll it into a ball so that the filling will be in the centre of the dough ball. Then, place the dough ball in a special wooden mould. The mould has floral designs engraved in it, which creates the ang-ku’s iconic pattern. Lastly, steam the kuih for around ten minutes on a banana leaf. Use banana leaf so that the kuih will not stick to the tray.
Starring: The Ang-Ku Kuih In Chinese Culture
The ang-ku kuih is of high cultural importance and value to the Chinese. Though often eaten as a casual snack, it plays an important role in their many auspicious occasions. Because the colour red represents happiness and success in Chinese culture, people would normally dye the kuih red. What’s more, the elaborate patterns on the kuih have a symbolic meaning too.
1. Chinese New Year
This is the most important festival in Chinese culture as it represents the start of a fresh new year. During this time, the Chinese people would offer sweets such as ang-ku kuih, kuih kapit, “nian gao“, and more to the Chinese deities. The eatables offered to the deities may vary, but all were in hopes that these deities would bless the people with a prosperous year.
Fun fact! Birthdays have a greater significance after one reaches the age of sixty. The number of ang-ku kuih prepared correspond to the age of the elder who is celebrating his or her birthday by an additional twelve. For example, people prepared seventy-four kuihs when celebrating an elder’s 62nd birthday. They did this to count their blessings for having lived this long. The additional twelve kuihs were in hopes that it would increase one’s lifespan, along with good fortune.
3. Newborn’s “Man Yue”
According to Chinese customs, people hold a celebration when a newborn turns one month old. The Chinese character “man” means full, while “yue” means moon. Therefore, “man yue” means full moon, symbolising the completion of a month (according to the lunar calendar). Ang-ku kuihs are traditionally gifted to friends and relatives during this time to symbolise luck, blessings and long life for the child. In Hokkien tradition, the design on top of the kuih signifies the gender of the child. A tortoise and two marbles is the sign for a boy while two peaches represent a girl. Interesting, huh?
Where Can I Find Ang-Ku Kuih?
Oh definitely! Since often considered a street food, you can find it at morning markets, mamak stalls, night markets (pasar malam) here in Malaysia, or even at confectionaries and restaurants that serve nyonya kuihs. I personally love this kuih because I grew up eating it. Normally when I buy ang-ku kuih, I go to the street market five minutes away from my house. If you look at the map of Kuala Lumpur, you’ll find that pasar malams are all around. If you’re ever in Kuala Lumpur or Petaling Jaya, and you want to find a place to get the amazing ang-ku kuih and other kuihs, check out these recommendations.