How many traditional kueh can you name off the top of your head?
I’m guessing that one of the first that comes to mind is the red and glossy ang ku kueh.
For the unacquainted, ang ku kueh is a Chinese pastry with a chewy skin made of glutinous rice flour, and stuffed with fillings like mung bean, peanut, yam, and coconut.
Traditionally used as temple offerings or as a gift during full month celebrations for babies, ang ku kueh is also consumed as a snack, albeit more commonly by older folks.
23-year-old Keith Su is a millennial who loves kueh, and has taken his fondness for the pastries one step further – by crafting them in his kitchen and selling them.
And just like how Douglas Ng’s love for his grandmother’s handmade fishballs led him to set up the very successful The Fishball Story chain, Keith also draws much of his inspiration from his ah mah‘s handmade ang ku kueh.
“I Didn’t Appreciate Kueh As Much As When I Was Younger”
Kueh formed a substantial amount of my childhood memories.
Like most kids, he loved deep fried snacks (in particular, carrot cake) “doused in lots of ketchup”, and also counts kueh bingka ubi (tapioca cake) as one of his favourite kueh.
One of the most memorable ones, however, was the ang ku kueh, which his ah mah (grandmother) used to give him as an after-school snack.
“Ang ku kueh is still my favourite kueh now,” he beamed.
Keith also enjoyed “watching ah mah executing her cooking skills by making things like bak zhang (glutinous rice dumpling)” and even doubled-up as her kitchen helper.
“Whenever she made bak zhang, I would help her to separate the glutinous rice grains!”
As much as he loved eating them, Keith admitted that his interest in making kueh only developed when he was older.
Armed with a diploma in Culinary and Catering Management from Temasek Polytechnic, he worked as a cook in a Peranakan restaurant, before donning the green and serving National Service.
However, this did not stop the passionate young chef from experimenting with new recipes.
“While serving NS, I spent my free time frequenting the library and borrowing cookbooks,” he quipped.
It was then that he also tried making his first-ever kueh – the technically-challenging kueh salat (glutinous rice with pandan custard).
“It turned out to be an epic failure!”
“It was only after I finished making it that I found out that I had forgotten to add sugar,” he recalled.
“As I use freshly-blended pandan juice to make the seri kaya (coconut jam), it smelled fragrant and appetising. But when I had a bite of it, I felt like I chewed on a fistful of grass!”
I still ate it anyway, because I think if you swallow all your mistakes, you probably won’t make the same mistake again.
Determined to get it right, it took him four tries to perfect the recipe.
Motivated by his success, the ambitious 23-year-old ventured into creating more kueh, building up his repertoire one kueh recipe at a time.
“Our Happiest Childhood Memories Stem From Being Pampered By Ah Mah“
But making a business out of what started out as a hobby is another matter altogether.
Keith shared that while his girlfriend had always been supportive of him throughout, it was only after positive feedback from friends that he decided to take it a step further.
“It took me up to a period of three months from conception of the idea to experimenting and planning to decide to start this mini venture,” he said.
“I already had a compilation of recipes by then, so all that was left to do was to tweak the recipes till they were good enough for market standards.”
It wasn’t just the positive comments that spurred him on – his personal interest in kueh was another reason for starting up.
I personally feel that kueh are underrated when compared to the diverse array of cuisines that are available to us now.
“Traditional kueh are typically made using simple ingredients, but require a lot of skill in the cooking process. As I delve more into making kueh, I discover more about cooking techniques and methods that were used generations ago.”
Paying homage to his beloved ah ma, he named his venture ‘Ahmahzing’, a pun using the words ‘ah mah’ and ‘amazing’, and “also carries the same meaning in its Mandarin translation, 阿嬷棒”.
The name reflects my belief that our happiest childhood memories stem from being pampered by ah mah. Hence, Ahmahzing also pays homage to our heritage and grandmothers.
Looking To Explore Traditional Food From More Cultures
Operating out of his home kitchen in his family flat in Ang Mo Kio, Keith only started taking orders in April, conducting business mainly via Ahmahzing’s Instagram account.
Still a new business owner, Keith shared that consistency and efficiency were the first hurdles he faced, citing an incident when he overlooked several important steps while catering to a huge quantity of orders.
“It was only with more time, practice, and learning that I started to gain more experience to produce kueh that were up to standard.”
As compared to other establishments selling kueh, his offerings are also limited to a handful, but he intends to expand his operations and range of offerings soon.
Albeit being committed to Ahmahzing full-time, Keith still refers to it as a ‘hobby’, but believes that there is potential to turn it into a full-fledged business soon.
“I’m looking forward to do more popups, and I’m currently on the lookout for locations to set up shop. I’m also hoping to explore traditional foods of other cultures such as Teochew kueh.”
“Kueh may seem like a commoditised product, but I believe that there will always be an existing market for our unique local delicacies.”
Interested in Keith’s handmade kueh? Check Ahmahzing out and maybe order a few at its Instagram page!