Few Southeast Asian meals traditions are extra shared, celebrated, and argued over than kuih. Present in evening markets and morning avenue stalls throughout the area, kuih encompasses steamed truffles, dumplings, and different palm-sized snacks — principally candy, typically savory — in dozens of types relying on locality, however all sharing a number of core substances like rice, coconut, and pandan. A as soon as dying artwork that’s having fun with a revival each in Southeast Asia and right here in america, kuih is famously temperamental. They’re “residing and respiratory issues,” says Mogan Anthony, the energetic co-owner of crowd favourite kuih store Woman Wong. “Our recipes are by no means achieved. Each day, we adapt and alter them.”
Together with Filipino cafe Kabisera, fellow Malaysian spot Kuih Cafe, and Indonesian pop-up Moon Man, Woman Wong is among the many vanguard of outlets in New York which can be hyper-focused on Southeast Asian snack and meals stall staples. And on this case, it’s been a success: A 12 months after Anthony and co-owner and spouse Seleste Tan launched Woman Wong as a kuih supply service in NYC, the Malaysian-born couple was in a position to translate their early success to a everlasting storefront within the East Village, at 322 East Ninth Road, between First and Second Avenues. The trendy area features a vibrant array of tidy kuih on one facet, and Southeast Asian-influenced truffles and patisseries — reflecting the couple’s culinary coaching at effective eating spots WD-50 and Jean-Georges — on the opposite.
Not in contrast to the dedication wanted to organize a Michelin-starred dinner, making refined, exacting kuih is a time- and labor-intensive endeavor. Tan and Anthony supply most of their key substances from Southeast Asian farmers straight — a lot in order that Woman Wong claims to be the most important purchaser of imported pandan in New York Metropolis. All in, the couple has spent hundreds of hours experimenting and honing their recipes. “It’s necessary as a result of we wish to honor the tradition the place we got here from, and we wish you to like the meals we grew up with,” Tan says.
Under, Tan and Anthony break down 5 of their favourite kuih and the way every one comes collectively:
A staple all through Southeast Asia, the enduring seri muka was the primary kuih that Tan made in her dwelling kitchen in New York. The steamed dessert appears pretty simple — a lightweight inexperienced pandan custard layer on prime of a mattress of sticky rice — however, regardless of its simplicity, seri muka takes a seasoned hand to make, in keeping with Tan. Made in a conventional, multitiered Chinese language steamer, the kuih takes two days to organize. The group steams and rests the rice thrice over: as soon as to organize the rice, the second so as to add pandan and different seasoning, and the ultimate time to prepare dinner with the pandan custard.
Whereas the rice itself takes important consideration, the actual problem is find the correct consistency for the custard: overcooked and it curdles, undercooked and it doesn’t arrange sufficiently. Relying on the day’s humidity, the best cooking time to realize a creamy, agency custard spans three to 5 hours — a calculation that took “numerous, a whole bunch” of trials, Anthony says. Then there’s the stability of proportions between the 2 layers. Woman Wong favors a tall pandan custard, a effective eating spin on the dessert that’s more durable to execute as a result of a taller custard requires extra approach — with the correct ratio of substances and exact cooking time — to face up. To complete, Woman Wong stains the glutinous rice with blue pea flower to create the store’s trademark cerulean blue swirl.
A textbook lapis sagu is translucent and stretchy, composed of 9 layers of pandan-and-coconut-flavored tapioca squares which can be finest consumed, as by numerous Malaysian faculty youngsters, one layer at a time. Not like different kuih, the lapis sagu has no rice flour. As a substitute, it depends solely on tapioca to realize its stretchy, chewy, peel-apart layers. The development is a matter of cautious timing, because the vegan kuih is steamed layer by layer, for anyplace between 15 to 25 minutes. Every successive steam is barely shorter than the final, lest the underside overcooks — and the cooks decide the best texture by contact. In Woman Wong’s rainbow interpretation, the blue and pink colours come from blue pea flower, juiced beetroot, pink rice, and rose. On the finish of the hours-long cooking course of, if the lapis sagu doesn’t peel with the gentlest nudge, then Tan and Anthony begin over from the primary layer.
Angku kuih, or pink tortoise cake, is a special-occasion Chinese language-Malay kuih formed like a tortoise shell and crammed with mung bean or, every so often, floor peanuts. For Anthony, the great thing about the angku kuih is in its distinctive shell and the self-discipline required to provide the molded dessert. It’s a two-day course of: On the primary day, the group steams the mung bean filling and permits it to relaxation to realize a creamy consistency. On the second day, they taste the filling with pandan and sugar, whereas getting ready the beetroot juice-stained shell dough with rice, tapioca, and different starches. A small spherical of mung bean filling is then tucked into the dough, and the raw dumpling is pressed into intricately designed picket turtle molds imported from Malaysia and steamed. As soon as began, the method can’t be halted or corrected, Anthony says, as a result of the shells can dry out shortly.
Anthony separates the textures of kuih into 5 main classes: bouncy, chewy, creamy, dense, and crusty. Ondeh ondeh, glutinous rice balls crammed with a molten palm sugar syrup, is the quintessential chewy kuih. To create the right dough, Woman Wong dehydrates their rice flour combination, sourced from Indonesia and Thailand, for twenty-four hours to extract any extra moisture earlier than cooking begins. Then they mix the flour with juiced pandan and different seasonings. As soon as the dough is made, the group folds molten gula jawa, or palm sugar, into the rice dough rounds for a wealthy, darkly candy, and barely stretchy filling. The crammed rice balls are boiled in water for eight to 10 minutes after which rolled in coconut flakes and served in a set of 4 on a banana leaf. “If you wish to describe Southeast Asia in a single chew,” says Anthony, “ondeh ondeh might be the most effective.”
The most typical kuih in Malaysia, in keeping with Anthony, is pulut inti. The snack is manufactured from a beneficiant mound of slow-cooked, grated coconut that rests on prime of a small mattress of steamed rice. It’s then wrapped up right into a tidy pyramid with a banana leaf till solely the highest portion of the coconut filling is uncovered. To reach on the proper ratio of tenderness to chew, Woman Wong painstakingly cooks the grated coconut with palm sugar for practically eight hours, including and adjusting the water to realize a confit-like texture.
As with many kuih, salt performs a crucial position in each elements of the pulut inti, serving to stability the near-savory coconut filling with the rice mattress. To distinction the extraordinary richness of the coconut, the rice mattress is barely calmly seasoned with coconut milk and in any other case left unsweetened. According to Woman Wong’s refined tackle kuih, the couple favors a tall portion of the wealthy coconut filling to ensure it’s included in each chew. For these born in Malaysia, the scent and style of pulut inti — notably the aroma of the unwrapped banana leaf — is printed on the reminiscence the identical manner donuts may be for these born in america, Anthony says.
Woman Wong is open Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to six p.m., and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
John Tsung is a cultural author and multidisciplinary artist whose work explores immigrant narratives and the Asian American expertise, amongst different themes. You’ll find his work right here.