If you've a sweet tooth, KL can be heaven or hell, depending on whether you're in indulgence mode or steering clear of all seven of the deadly sins. Temptation - in the form of an endless array of multi-hued, variously shaped and textured sugary kuih (lit. "cake") - lurk on every corner, peddled from mobile carts, sold by generously-girthed, smiling mom-like ladies seated behind folding tables outside grocery store entrances, hawked at permanent stalls in coffee shops, or served in air-conditioned comfort at shops in any one of KL's numerous shopping malls.
Resistance is futile -- unless you can't stand coconut, despise palm sugar, or (heaven forbid!) are revolted by both. (Most Malaysian sweets contain one or the other, in some form or another, and quite often, copious amounts of both.)
For the ten years or so prior to moving to KL, I was a once-a-month-or-so sweets consumer. All too aware of the dangers posed by a half-finished cake or a tin of cookies sitting on the kitchen counter, I don't often bake at home (the pound of Valhrona bittersweet chocolate I purchased two months ago to make a flourless chocolate-black pepper cake is still sitting in fridge). And I rarely order dessert at a restaurant (vacations being the exception), preferring to devote my calories to delectable savories and good wine.
But living in KL has posed a challenge. Malay sweets, with their coconut-y richness and haunting palm sugar complexity, have thrown a monkey wrench in my attempts to "stay clean".
The weekend before last was a bit of a disaster. First, on Saturday, there was the kuih seller outside Restoran Fook Yun. The little lovely pictured up top consists of two thick layers of rice flour, coconut milk and sweet corn (yellow) sandwiching a thin layer flavored with coconut milk and pandan leaves. I love, love, love sweet corn - but not in a dessert, so I approached this kuih with a bit of caution. In this instance though, it worked, the corny sucrose seeming very at home with the coconut.
Then there was the kuih ketayap (or kuih dadar) sold at the Aroma Nyonya Kueh stall at Chun Heong coffee shop in Bangsar's Lucky Garden.
This is, without a doubt, my very favorite kuih. Soft, spongy pandan-flavored pancakes enclose a filling of grated coconut and palm sugar. There's nothing quite like a kuih dadar hot off the griddle, when the pancake is still warm enough to soften the palm sugar. But a well-made dadar will stand the test of hours, its wrapper remaining supple and yielding long after the treat has cooled.
Then we stepped into the abyss, deciding on the spur of the moment to check out the offerings at this kuih cart that parks outside Nam Chuan coffee shop every Sunday afternoon. The cart was mobbed and our wait was substantial and tortuous, as I watched the supply of kuih dwindle. Happily, there was plenty left when our turn rolled around.
This vendor sells kueh lapis (chewy, multi-colored layers of rice flour and coconut),
kuih kosui (rice flour dough flavored with coconut or pandan and coconut, steamed in cups -- the khui is scooped plastic, cut into quarters, and topped with fresh grated coconut),
and kuih apam (not-too-sweet spongy brown cakes lightly flavored with palm sugar --I imagined them as part of a delicious trifle, sliced and layered with strawberries and vanilla ice cream).
And much more. Behold our haul:
Clockwise from upper left (readers, thanks for providing correct names!): kuih apam, kuih kosui, kueh lapis, kuih seri muka (a cake of glutinous rice cooked with coconut milk, topped with a pandan layer), onde onde (Dave's fave - steamed pandan flavored glutinous rice flour balls with a semi-liquid filling of palm sugar, rolled in grated coconut), a "sandwich" of pulut tai tai (coconut and glutinous rice flour cakes that traditionally get their blue hue from a dye obtained from dried bunga telang, or butterfly pea flowers) with a kaya (rich coconut and egg "jam") filling, a coconuty kueh with a wrinkly "burnt" topping of palm sugar, and kueh talam (a layer of rice and green pea flour flavored with pandan topped with a layer of rice flour and coconut cream).
This was not a typical weekend, but I think it's pretty obvious that I am no longer master of my sweet tooth. I may require detox.