Last Updated: December 11, 2019
Growing up with a Hokkien maternal family, I’ve had my fair share of traditional Hokkien dishes. But one of my all-time favourites is the ever-delicate ang ku kueh.
Small and round, the pastry usually consists of a sweet filling wrapped in a chewy glutinous rice flour skin.
Fortunately, I know of a place which still makes them the old-school, traditional way. Located in Bukit Merah, Poh Cheu Soon Kueh and Ang Ku Kueh (寳洲手工制作筍粿红龟粿) is a three-generational kueh speciality shop.
They’re renowned for making all their kuehs from the skin all the way to the fillings by hand. However, it’s their myriad of unique ang ku kueh flavours, in addition to the traditional ones, that they’re most popular for.
78-year-old Neo Poh Cheu is the man who started it all. He founded his kueh business with his wife more than 30 years ago in 1985. Back then, Mr Neo made all his kuehs at home as he didn’t have a physical stall.
As an illegal hawker, he used to run around selling kuehs in a pushcart. Consequently, and more often than not, the police would find him and confiscate his entire pushcart. These occasions caused him to lose days of his earnings.
Nevertheless, his wife’s unwavering passion for making kuehs helped him to persevere on. Today, Mr Neo has a permanent shop of his own and his business has grown into a thriving empire that’s well-known islandwide.
Currently, Mr Neo’s daughter, Esther, is managing the shop. In fact, she is already preparing her son to take over the family business.
With a degree in accounting, Mr Neo’s grandson, Jerome, could have pursued an office career. However, the 25-year-old decided to fully involve himself in the family business upon graduating. It’s his wish that he may one day carry on his grandfather’s kueh legacy.
Jerome recalled that he made the life-changing decision on one occasion when his grandfather had fallen ill. As Jerome stepped in to make up for the manpower shortage, it hit him that his grandfather was getting old. He wouldn’t be able to make kuehs forever.
While Jerome also has an elder sister, she chose to pursue a career outside instead. Therefore, Jerome felt an even greater sense of responsibility to continue what his grandfather had started.
With both his mother and grandfather helping out at the shop daily, Jerome is learning the ropes of the business too.
A usual day at Poh Cheu starts as early as 5am. As they pride themselves on serving their food fresh, the staff prepare all the ingredients only on the day itself.
They make every item to order so that there wouldn’t be any excess.
As we took a closer look at the shelves, the rainbow hues of the ang ku kuehs on display captivated us. There were just so many colours! But before we tried the ones in unusual colours, we had the original red ones first.
For those of you who’re unaware, ‘ang ku kueh‘ literally translates to ‘red tortoise cake’. It’s a pastry that the Chinese eat across numerous occasions for its cultural significance.
To the Chinese, red represents wealth, luck, prosperity and all things positive. On the other hand, tortoises symbolise longevity. Hence, ang ku kuehs are ubiquitous during special occasions such as birthdays and festivals.
To start off, we had the classic Peanut (S$1.10) ang ku kueh. It’s the one flavour I cannot leave without every time I’m here.
We realised that Poh Cheu’s ang ku kuehs are rounder in shape than those elsewhere, and heavier too. Holding one in my hand felt like holding a golf ball!
The amazingly soft and stretchy glutinous rice flour skin fascinated us. It had a consistency which was bouncy and perfectly chewy. Surprisingly, it didn’t stick to our teeth, a common problem that happens with some ang ku kuehs.
Apparently, there’s a secret recipe behind the ang ku kueh skins that makes them so chewy, yet not sticky.
In fact, according to Mr Neo, the key to a good ang ku kueh is the skin itself. Too thick and people will find it jelak. If it’s too thin, it won’t be able to contain as much filling.
As we peeled open the ang ku kueh, our eyes lit up upon seeing the large amount of ground peanuts inside. We also noticed how compact the filling was.
It turns out that they actually roll the peanuts into tiny balls before wrapping them in the skins. As such, the filling was firm and not crumbly at all. Slightly salty, these ang ku kuehs were really palatable.
Wholesome and delectable, the peanut ang ku kueh remains my favourite from Poh Cheu. However, two is probably the most I can have in one sitting as these are incredibly filling.
A slightly more uncommon flavour we had was the Yam (S$1.10).
As we peeled apart the pale purple skin, the yam filling oozed out, to our delight.
With an earthy taste, the yam paste was very creamy and luscious, complementing the chewy skin very well. It was evident that actual yam went into making the paste as there was a strong starchy aroma.
For something a little fruity, we chose the Mango (S$1.10). Initially, we were sceptical about this flavour. We weren’t sure how well a mango paste would taste in an ang ku kueh.
However, to our great surprise, the mango filling inside was pleasantly decadent! Compared to the yam filling, the mango paste was more firm but still as creamy. I even tasted some actual mango bits!
The last ang ku kueh flavour we had, and probably the most unconventional of them all, was the Coffee (S$1.10). As coffee addicts, we were looking forward to it the most, though with low-key scepticism.
Without even biting into it, we could smell a strong aroma of coffee when we held it up. It was definitely a sign of good things to come.
Like the other fillings, the coffee paste was thick yet smooth. The blend of sweetness and bitterness shone through spectacularly, and we agreed that this was the underdog ang ku kueh. Pair it with a cup of teh-o like we did and it’ll be the perfect tea break.
On why they came up with so many unusual flavours, Mr Neo says it was because there was a demand for them. Very often customers would request for a certain flavour and Mr Neo’s wife would experiment on them. If the feedback for it is good, it’ll then go on the menu.
These bold flavours are also Mr Neo’s bids to attract younger customers. As most young people aren’t familiar with the traditional pastry, he hopes that these unique flavours will get their attention.
Well, it seems like his plan worked because we’re huge fans of the modern flavours!
Since we were at Poh Cheu Soon Kueh and Ang Ku Kueh, we had to try their signature Soon Kueh (S$1) too.
Unlike the ang ku kuehs, the soon kueh had a thinner skin which was translucent.
This means that at one glance, we could see all the ingredients they had packed into it.
We could also tell that the ingredients were fresh from how crunchy and juicy the turnip strips and other vegetables were.
While the skin was firm on the outside, it was pleasantly chewy and tore apart easily.
Dipping it into the chilli sauce that they provide made the soon kueh fragrant and even more delectable. No wonder it’s also Mr Neo’s favourite kueh!
Other than the traditional kuehs, Poh Cheu also serves up a range of other traditional delicacies.
Their Abacus (S$2.30 for small, S$8.50 for large) is a hot favourite amongst many customers.
They use less flour in making the abacus seeds, so you can definitely taste the starchiness of the yam. They’re also very generous with the accompanying ingredients such as mushrooms and shallots.
Over the years, Poh Cheu has been many people’s go-to place for fresh, traditional kuehs. To cope with the demands, in 2018 they rolled out an online ordering system. This year, they’ve come up with a Baby Full Month package due to many requests for the particular service.
Having been making kuehs for so many years, Mr Neo says it’s the customers who bring him the greatest joy. Seeing the steady stream of them daily makes him very happy and thankful. He’s also glad that people enjoy and have been very receptive to his unique ang ku kueh flavours.
As for the heir apparent, Jerome hopes to continue delivering a taste of traditional kuehs to people. He also wishes to innovate more flavours in the future as that’s what the family business is well-known for.
Ultimately, both Mr Neo and Jerome hope that their family business will continue to grow and prosper. In particular, they hope that more people from the younger generations will appreciate and support their traditional kuehs.
Such traditionally-made snacks are certainly hard to come by today. While most make them using machines and artificial flavourings, Poh Cheu doesn’t believe in doing so.
They use only the best ingredients and make every single component from scratch. This was how Mr Neo Poh Cheu did it then, and this is how they intend to continue doing it.
With so many out there in our multicultural country, I’m sure everyone has a differing opinion. But as far as ang ku kuehs are concerned, Poh Cheu Soon Kueh and Ang Ku Kueh has my vote. What are your favourite traditional snacks?
Expected Damage: S$1.10 – S$8 per item
Our Rating: 5 / 5
Poh Cheu Soon Kueh and Ang Ku Kueh (寳洲手工制作筍粿红龟粿)
Block 127, Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-222, Singapore 150127
Block 127, Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-222, Singapore 150127