Originated from the Chinese, Tutu Kueh is a good ol’ tea-time snack familiar to both the young and old in Singapore. Traditionally filled with classic peanut or coconut center, Tutu Kueh has lived and evolved through generation after generation. Do you know though, that the Malays also have a similar version of this little white kueh called Putu Piring?
The Luna Space team is privileged to have the opportunity for a chit-chat session with Mdm Tan Bee Hua and Mdm Aisyah; the current gen owners of Tan’s Tutu Kueh and Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring – 2 veteran brands in their own respective rights – to understand more about these little round kueh and how they are “same same but different” 😊
What were the origins of Tutu Kueh and Putu Piring?
Bee Hua: Tutu Kueh actually originated from China’s 松糕 (Sung Kueh), and when my father Chen Yong Fa came over to Singapore together with a few of his close friends and relatives, they improvised it, made it smaller, and filled it with peanut and coconut for taste and flavor.
Mdm Aisyah: During the World War 1 in 1930s, there were abundance of rice, and my great great grandmother decided to make Putu Piring out of the pounded rice for a source of living income. The first steamer is actually made from scratch from coconut husk.
How did the name “Tutu Kueh” and “Putu Piring” come about?
Bee Hua: The name “tu tu” was actually adopted from the “chuuuk chuuk chuuk” sound that the old steaming equipment (which was operated through the burning of wood) makes during the steaming process.
Mdm Aisyah: Putu refers to rice (cake), Piring means plate - in this case, it refers to the metal mold that holds the kueh. If we put both words together, it literally means rice cake on a plate.
Is there a reason behind the shape/design of Tutu Kueh and Putu Piring?
Bee Hua: When my father and a few of his friends were sitting around discussing about the shape of Tutu Kueh, they were drinking Chinese Tea – and that tea was actually chrysanthemum tea. They then got inspired and took the design of the chrysanthemum flower.
Mdm Aisyah: As the word “Piring” means plate in Malay, the shape of Putu Piring thus take its shape like a little plate.
What is the usual preparation time and process like of making Tutu Kueh and Putu Piring?
Bee Hua: There are always different work to be done every alternate day – for instance, every alternate day to pound the rice, every alternate day to fry the coconut, prepare the peanut etc.
Mdm Aisyah: We take 3 days to process the flour itself. The process involves cooking, steaming and grinding the flour, and bringing it to cool for 1 day. Before delivering over to the outlets every morning, we have to add salt water first and then grind it again before the flour is ready. Adding of salt water gives the flour a little bit of taste.
What is a typical morning for you like?
Bee Hua: In the morning from about 10am -12nn, it is all the food preparation before the stall (at Havelock Road) opens for business.
Mdm Aisyah: At 5am the factory will start work as the outlet here (at Geylang Serai Market) starts operating at 8am. So the flour ‘die die’ has to arrive by 7.30am latest.
What are the different types of fillings available?
Bee Hua: Traditionally, it is the coconut and peanut filling. However at the previous Ultimate Hawker Fest, we introduced other exclusive flavors such as cheese, durian, chocolate, and custard. We kept the dark chocolate flavor in our permanent menu as it is popular among younger customers.
Mdm Aisyah: The gula melaka aka palm sugar is the most original and authentic filling flavors. However since I took over the business, we added chocolate, durian, and coconut flavor to attract and introduce this kueh to the younger generation.
What is the most important key ingredient in Tutu Kueh and Putu Piring?
Bee Hua and Mdm Aisyah: Definitely the rice flour!
In terms of presentation...
Bee Hua: We use jumbo-size pandan leaves (aka screw pine leaves) and cut it up into small pieces to hold every single piece of Tutu Kueh. It adds a hint of fragrance to the kueh itself.
Mdm Aisyah: We serve our Putu Piring on a single bigger piece of pandan leave instead of individually. This also helps to add fragrance to the kueh.
(Clockwise direction – Chocolate , Durian and Gula Melaka)
Must Tutu Kueh or Putu Piring be consumed on the spot?
Bee Hua: Within half an hour would be the best, or steam it up when you are ready to eat it. You can also keep it in the fridge till the next day, and steam it up before eating. Rice has a little bit of moisture, hence it will not be as dry as normal flour. Another tip is to put the tutu kueh on top of freshly-steamed rice for 1 min.
Mdm Aisyah: Putu Piring is best consumed immediately for the gula melaka (and other fillings in general) to be fresh and still a little gooey, or within 2 hours if customers would like to take-away.
Mdm Aisyah is the 5th generation now managing Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring since it was founded in 1930s.
(One of the brand’s four outlets in Geylang Serai Market)
Chen Yong Fa was one of the very first few who created Tutu Kueh in Singapore in 1930s. Mdm Tan Bee Hua is the 2nd generation managing Tan’s Tutu Kueh. This stall (pictured below) is the first outlet in Havelock Road since 1975.
(Tan Bee Hua making some Tutu Kueh at the brand’s first outlet in Havelock Food Centre)
The Luna Space team would like to give a special thanks to Mdm Tan Bee Hua and Mdm Aisyah for the time spent in sharing their stories with us – and more importantly, to keep this tradition going! We wish them all the very best, and we look forward to seeing the prosperous continuity of their business and tradition.