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Kuih (also kueh, kue, or kway; from Hokkien: 粿 koé) are bite-sized snack or dessert foods found in the Malay Archipelago as well as the Southern China provinces of Fujian and Canton. Kuih is a fairly broad term which may include items that would be called cakes, cookies, dumplings, pudding, biscuit, or pastries in English and are usually made from rice or glutinous rice.

Kuih are more often steamed than baked, and thus very different in texture, flavor and appearance from Western cakes or puff pastries. Many kuihs are sweet, but some are savory.

Kuihs are not confined to a certain meal but can be eaten throughout the day. They are an integral part of Malaysian and Singaporean festivities such as Hari Raya and Chinese New Year, which is known as Tahun Baru Cina in Malay among the Peranakan.

In almost all Peranakan kuihs, the most common flavoring ingredients are grated coconut (plain or flavoured), coconut cream (thick or thin), pandan (screwpine) leaves and gula melaka (palm sugar, fresh or aged). While those make the flavor of kuihs, their base and texture are built on a group of starches – rice flour, glutinous rice flour, glutinous rice and tapioca. Two other common ingredients are tapioca flour and green bean (mung bean) flour (sometimes called "green pea flour" in certain recipes). They play a most important part in giving kuihs their distinctive soft, almost pudding-like, yet firm texture. Wheat flour is rarely used in Southeast Asian cakes and pastries.

For most kuihs there is no single "original" or "authentic" recipe. Traditionally, making kuih was the domain of elderly grandmothers, aunts and other women-folk, for whom the only (and best) method for cooking was by "agak agak" (approximation). They would instinctively take handfuls of ingredients and mix them without any measurements or any need of weighing scales. All is judged by its look and feel, the consistency of the batter and how it feels to the touch. Each family holds its own traditional recipe as well as each region and state.


Nyonya (Peranakan) and Malay kuihs are very hard to distinguish. The Peranakans, especially those in Malacca and Singapore, were heavily influenced by Malaysia and its Malay culinary and cultural heritage. Therefore there are many kuihs that are identical in both cultures except, perhaps, in name. With the passage of time, the lines of distinction between the two groups of kuihs have blurred even more. Few Malaysians and Singaporeans will be able to tell you precisely which kuihs are exclusively Nonya and which are exclusively Malay or Indonesian. However, the term “Nonya kuih” is probably more commonly used in Singapore, and “Malay kuih” perhaps more common in Malaysia.

Nonya kuihs come in different shapes, colours, texture and designs. Some examples are filled, coated, wrapped, sliced and layered kuihs. Also, as mentioned earlier, most kuihs are steamed, with some being boiled or baked. They can also be deep-fried, and sometimes even grilled.

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