When i think of Tutu Kuehs, i remember the times when my grandma brought me to the coffee shop just across the street, where this old man would prepare fresh tutus from rice flour. And as a child, i was really more fascinated by the process of making the tutus than actually eating them. I wasn’t very tall back then, and that gave me an eye-level perspective of how this indigenous kueh is made.
The old man would start of by adding a layer of rice flour in the tutu mould, followed by the filling of either grounded peanuts or shredded coconut flesh, and then with another layer of rice flour to create the base of the kueh. To finish it off, a square-cut of pandan leaf is added to the base, to make the rice flour more aromatic. Then into the steamers they go! I can still remember the white linen cloth he would use to avoid direct contact while holding the hot metal moulds.
The decisive moment comes when the tutus emerge from their metal moulds. You pray the tutus don’t crumble, either because of an excess in filling or the lack of rice flour to hold the filling in. As simple as the dish is, it take balance of the two ingredients to create the perfect tutu.
It’s been years since i saw that old man, but watching the owner of Tan’s Tutu, Ms Tan Bee Hwa, prepare each kueh brings back many memories. You’d be really surprised at how much work goes into every kueh. When i met Ms Tan, she was in the midst of milling rice grains into flour, using a machine she says is older than she is! Even the peanut filling is made from scratch. I think it’s amazing how much effort is taken to preserve the heritage of this snack. To call it a simple snack is to forget more than 80 years of history behind this unassuming kueh. Ms Tan’s father, Tan Eng Huat, came to Singapore from China back in the 1930’s and made tutus for a living. His son later took over and Ms Tan eventually took up the helm of the trade. This second generation hawker even gave up her job as an assistant account manager in order to carry on the family business.
Unlike tutu kuehs at pasar malams, the kuehs here do not crumble easily. Each kueh is moist and tender, and the fragrance of the rice flour is rustic and robust. Both fillings are a good match to the flour, but i particularly enjoy the coconut filling because of the sweet gula melaka. Take note though, this is not the kind of snack you want to dabao. Eat it while it’s hot and moist; leave it out in the open for too long and it’ll dry up. Of course, you can re-steam the kuehs, but you can avoid the risk of over-steaming them by eating them straight from the master!
I still reminisce the nights when i held my grandma’s hand as she brought me to the coffee shop, the steam in my face as i waited for the tutus, and the times i carefully peeled the tutus from the pandan leaf. Tan’s TuTu Kuehs are my time-travel-kuehs; my quick fix for nostalgia. What about you?
Address: Blk 22B Havelock Road, #01-25
Opening Hours: 9am to 3pm
Prices: $3 for 5