Kuih tutu is a small steamed cake made of finely pounded rice flour and filled with either ground peanuts or grated coconut. Thought to be Chinese in origin, kuih tutu is believed to be unique to Singapore.
Kuih tutu is made by steaming rice flour in a special mould. First the mould is filled with finely pounded flour. Then a portion of the filling is taken out to make space for the filling. This could be grated coconut or ground peanuts or a combination of both. The grated coconut would have been fried on low heat over several hours and sweetened with gula Melaka (palm sugar). Another layer of rice flour is added to seal the filling and the cake tipped over onto a muslin cloth placed on the steamer. The cakes take on the flower-like shape of the mould. Placed on a cut pandanus leaf before serving, they acquire a sweet flavour and scent. The flour is slightly sweetened so the cakes tastes just as good even without filling and are sometimes sold thus.
The method of making kuih tutu and its ingredients are very similar to those of putu piring, which has its origins in South India’s idiyappam or putu mayam. Some suggest that its name is a corruption of putu. Thus in Malay, in which kuih means “cake”, its name could mean “putu cake”. However, kuih tutu is believed to be a snack that originated from the Fujian province of China rather than from South India. Tan Yong Fa, from Fujian, is credited with popularising this Chinese snack, which he sold in the 1930s in Singapore. The original Chinese steamed cakes were larger than modern-day kuih tutu and had no filling. The name of the cake is derived from the sound made by the charcoal-heated steamers that were used to cook these cakes in the past.
Traditionally, the flour used in kuih tutu is made by pounding rice grains rather than grinding them. The resulting flour is sifted several times so that it is snow white and light. Influences of the Malay Peninsula led to ground peanut, grated coconut and gula Melaka (palm sugar) being added as filling.
Malaysian cities known for their cuisine such as Penang and Kuala Lumpur did not sell kuih tutu and the dish was believed to be unique to Singapore. In the 1980s, Singaporean Tay Low Long designed steam carts and moulds in stainless steel to make kuih tutu. He developed his recipe for the cakes based on his boyhood memories of kuih tutu made by a vendor in the Joo Chiat neighbourhood. He then single-handedly revived the dish by setting up more than 20 kuih tutu outlets in major supermarkets such as Cold Storage and Yaohan.
Kueh tutu, kuey tutu
Kueh kutu, kuih kutu (Peranakan)
Chan, M. (1986, November 23). Piping-hot kueh tutu just like father’s (NL15625). The Straits Times, Sunday Plus, p. 4.
Foo, D. (2003, October 5). Tarts made the 1920s way (NL25262). The Straits Times, p. 39.
Ho, M. (1987, July 2). A tart of multiracial origins? (NL15867). The Straits Times, Section Two, p. 1.
Ho, M. (1987, July 2). The kueh tutu lives on (NL15867). The Straits Times, Section Two, p. 1
Ho, M. (1987, July 2). The tutu: How it is made (NL15867). The Straits Times, Section Two, p. 2.
Ho, M. (1987, July 23). Tutu, kutu or putu (NL15869). The Straits Times, Section Two, p. 3.
Lum, M. (1997, August 24). A snappy snack that really takes the cake (NL20197). The Straits Times, p. 2.
Thng, L. T. (2008, March 16). Tutu tasty to resist (NL28851). The Straits Times, Lifestyle. Retrieved August 20, 2010 from Factiva database.
The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.