For Nyonya kuih in Melbourne, especially lapis legit, pulut tekan and the ang ku kuih.
Have you been to Malaysia before, dear readers? As a shopping destination, it is one of the best in Asia, with market bargains comfortably sitting alongside designer chic. As a cultural destination, rickshaws, lorries and motorcycles weave their way among tall skyscrapers, colonial-era buildings and traditional kampungs (Malay stilt houses). As a food destination, it has far less of the imported expatriate mesh of Hong Kong and Singapore, and is arguably, unparalleled for the diversity of ethnic cuisines available — a veritable melting pot of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine, and perhaps the first “fusion” cuisine, Peranankan Nyonya.
When in Melbourne…take a trip to Glen Waverley, an increasingly multicultural eastern suburb exploding with a myriad of regional Asian cuisines. Lim’s Nyonya Hut occupies a corner allotment along a busy road that connects this suburb to other Asian dominated suburbs of Box Hill, Blackburn, Doncaster etc. It looks like nothing more and nothing less than your usual neighbourhood Chinese take-away restaurant-cafe. But, thanks to the recommendation of an old high school friend, your Dessert Correspondents have discovered perhaps the one place in Melbourne that specialises in the delightful delicacy of nyonya kuih (Malay-Chinese cakes). For your edification, kuih are bite-sized, tea snacks commonly eaten in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and also in the Hokkien-speaking Fujian province of China. The central ingredient in the traditional Nyonya kuih is rice flour mixed with water (usually alkaline water), resulting in a soft, slightly sticky texture. It is however very light on the stomach senses. Kuih is generally best served cold, though the ones with rice grain components are usually warmed-up gently before eating.
Inside, Lim’s Nyonya Hut is pared-back to the extreme. Off-white furnishings, purple walls. What grabs your attention from the moment you walk in is a three-columned chart emblazoned with the word “Desserts.” It lists the kuih with pictures (helpful for those new to the cuisine, as well as helpful for those who know this cuisine but remember appearance rather than names). There are 10 types always available and a few rotating. We sampled 9 of the 10 always available range.
Let’s start with the kuih for which you should consider visiting Lim’s Nyonya Hut. First up, the must-try we recommend is the Kuih Lapis Legit ($1.00 each). One has to undertake an arduous process to make this properly — alternately baking, grilling, steaming, and a lot of waiting time in between. The extreme care taken was evident in the distinct layers of light brown and dark brown cake, as well as that slight characteristic spice and herbaceous tones projected from the mix of cardamon cloves, vanilla, cinnamon used. It was a thin wedge, and just excellent.
Also good, the Pulut Tekan (wrongly identified as Pulut Talam on the venue’s menu *tsk tsk*) ($0.70 each) — a plain, glutinous rice cake marbled with bright blue. Usually, this bright blue colour is derived from the essence of a tropical flower, the butterfly pea flower (bunga telang). We aren’t sure if that was used at Lim’s Nyonya Hut, but the effect was correct as was the taste. A dollop of kaya with a good coconut flavour and smooth consistency was spooned on top of it. This kuih is best served warm.
The Ang Ku Kuih ($0.70 each) has, for one of us, always been associated with ancestor offerings and other similar rituals during certain Chinese festivities. As such, we have generally stayed away from eating it ourselves as we have been brought up to believe that once offered to the spirits, it is not for consumption. Outside of such occasions, we understand that this kuih is well known in China, more so than other more typically Malay Nyonya kuih. Translating into “red turtle cake,” it is usually more of a bright neon orange colour rather than red per se. A glutinous lump usually embossed with symbolic Chinese characters, if not other types of insignia depending on the occasion being used, the ang ku kuih can be filled with a starchy mung bean paste, or sometimes a smoother peanut paste filling (our preferred filling). Lim’s Nyonya Hut version was a little on the small side, but true to the important aspects of taste/texture. It rests on a square of banana leaf.
Less successful were the other kuih available at Lims’s Nyonya Hut, their main weakness being lack of flavour. A long-time favourite for ours, particularly as we first sampled this on childhood holidays, the Kuih Lapis ($0.70 each, also known as kow chan kuih) was a characteristically pretty, multi-coloured, multi-layered diamond. However, it failed in four important aspects — a translucency in its overall appearance, nine distinct layers of colour, an ability to peel apart each of the nine layers when eating, and also in the taste dimension. Such a pity.
The Kuih Talam ($0.70 each) at Lim’s Nyonya Hut was a properly bisected kuih of pandan (the green layer) and set coconut cream (the white layer). But we couldn’t taste either pandan nor coconut. Also, the coconut cream layer should have been narrower in width and a little less opaque.
Sprinkled with a dash of fresh coconut flakes, the boat-shaped Kuih Kosui ($0.70 each) was available at Lim’s Nyonya Hut in the typical flavours — brown (coloured by the use of brown sugar) or green (coloured by the use of pandan). We sampled both, and believe that the brown sugar version was better in execution that the pandan which again, lacked the characteristic pandan flavour. Texture-wise, we note no faults.
Lim’s Nyonya Hut Kuih Dadar ($0.70 each, also known as Kuih Tayap) looked and felt as it should be — a thick tubular offering of fragrant, grated coconut soaked in palm sugar and toasted, and then wrapped in a soft, pliable pandan crepe. But it didn’t taste as it should be. Again, the pandan was imperceptible. For a better rendition, we recommend the kuih dadar/kuih tayap from Omah’s, albeit far more expensive.
Apart from the occasional stock at Asian grocery stores, Lim’s Nyonya Hut is perhaps the only place in Melbourne with a wide range of Nyonya kuih. The problem of overseas travels and/or residence however is that sometimes, nothing on your return home can be considered comparable. Because of such past experiences, MoMo & Coco find somewhat underwhelming Lim’s Nyonya Hut renditions of the iconic kuih lapis and the pandan-centric kuih. Their general appearance and texture are fine; rather, it’s the flavour aspect that is problematically, persistently absent. However, Lim Nyonya’s Hut is most definitely the place to go to in Melbourne for kuih lapis legit, pulut tekan and the ang ku kuih. Their excellent, authentic execution evokes such beautiful memories of Malaysia.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Lim’s Nyonya Hut, 240 Blackburn Road, Glen Waverley, Vic 3150.
- ☑ Budget: $.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Nyonya cake.
- ☑ Must-eat: The lapis legit, pulut tekan and ang ku kuih.
- ☑ The short and sweet story: For Nyonya kuih in Melbourne, especially lapis legit, pulut tekan and the ang ku kuih.