Peranakan Kueh – Traditional, Handmade Goodness

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Located in the Jalan Besar area, Peranakan Khek is a purveyor of traditional, handmade Peranakan kueh by chef-owner Sharon Low. Doyenne.sg speaks to the feisty young lady and finds out how she’s running a small business with a big mission.

By ShuQi Liu

Sharon Low is a petite and feisty young lady. She runs a small business with a big mission: to breathe life back into traditional Nyonya kueh done right. When she was honing her skills in pastry kitchens and moonlighting as a traditional snack enthusiast, she discovered the secret to Peranakan kueh is simple: balance among rich and light, softness, and bite. Yet, this balance can only be achieved by good technique and quality ingredients.

Nestled in the Jalan Besar enclave, Sharon Low is chef-owner of Peranakan Khek, a self-proclaimed purveyor of traditional, handmade Peranakan kueh. The bold name “Peranakan Khek” says it all. 

“I always thought I fancied the taste of mass produced Ang Ku Kueh (red tortoise cake), until I made my own.”

Stamped with a pink peony, a common motif that represents femininity in the Peranakan culture, Sharon does not shy away from telling the world that hers is a legitimate, albeit fledgling business. I enter the IKEA-furnished hole in the wall shop front and take in a waft of freshly baked traditional sweets sitting with delicate bravado in the display shelf.

As a true Peranakan, Sharon observed that traditional kueh kueh was getting tougher to find in Singapore, and decided to preserve these recipes herself. To perfect her skills, Sharon tried and erred by reading blogs, cookbooks and trying things out. “Sifting through bad information was challenging, there is a lot of that out there. I don’t know why but I just find so much satisfaction in making everything by hand, even though the process is insane. I just love it!”

Sharon always thought that she fancied the taste of mass produced Ang Ku Kueh until she made her own. “Today, we are in retrograde. The quality of kuehs are not getting better. When you cut these corners, which a lot of people do, you lose that special, midas touch. The handmade taste and feel is not there anymore,” she says.

“I just have an obsession with measuring sugar, differentiating flour, tasting, chocolate, and combining with precision. I am OCD. I like that things can be controlled, there is little room for errors.”

At this juncture, I suspect my indie rock-loving groupie is actually a grandmother at heart. Disguised as a Little Nyonya, Sharon genuinely appreciates traditional dessert-making methods. She is on a mission and wants to be known for reviving handmade kuehs in Singapore.

“Whenever people tell me their aunties can make better kueh, I put my hand up and offer to learn from them. I feel the need to preserve these dying recipes for the next generation, which are disappearing too soon. If our generation doesn’t learn, it will vanish altogether,” says Sharon.

Making the Ang Ku Kueh skin itself takes a very long time, according to Sharon. Firstly, there is steaming of sweet potatoes, mashing them, then soaking the beans for the filling, which then needs to be blended, boiled, and cooked again.

Kueh kueh is so delicate it pairs better with tea. Coffee is too assertive, and might dampen the taste altogether,” she explains.

“Most Singaporeans can identify with Kueh Salat, which is all about balance and texture. The rice needs to be pressed well for a grainy, fine texture that has bite. The custard has to be smooth too. There’s contrast between soft and hard in this.

“Our Bingka Ubi is made with pure, grated tapioca. No flour is used to bulk it up, the taste is really different.”

“I am stuck in the kitchen for the rest of my life!” she exclaims with brazen assurance. “I’ve always had the idea at the back of my mind. So one day, I decided I should just run with it fully. Make kuehs that are a treat for the ones you love, feels a bit more special.”

Images by Peranakan Khek

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