Malay Kueh, Kaya + Butter on Charcoal Bread, and the Authentic Christian

Working is hungry business, especially when you use alot of brainpower (due to your brain obviously not being very efficent).

Came upon a Malay kueh seller at the Serangoon Central bus interchange who sold me a plastic-bagful of this lovely stuff for S$2. There’s a time and place for everything – more delicate kuehs from Bengawan Solo and the like are fine for tai-tais and high tea, but for someone who’s constantly famished from thinking, whose current criteria for choosing food is: “how many calories can I consume in a meal so I won’t have to eat again so soon”, these go a good way to keeping the tank filled:

Malay kuehBut the woman on the SBS bus (cf. man on the Clapham omnibus) would be screaming (silently, so as not to disturb others and fall victim to a Stomp-er): artificial food colouring! Glutinous flour! Empty carbs! Refined sugar! Weight gain! Poor diet! Unhealthy eating! Ugliness!

So the reasonable person is usually so steeped in his/her own culture and time in human history that it would take a great effort to examine all the presuppositions and preconceptions that underlie the thinking of that era. For us in Singapore (and also in many “Western” countries), authenticity is a big thing. To summarise/add on to what has already been looked at in The Authenticity Hoax, the roughly-hewn badge of authenticity carved from heritage driftwood would go to someone who:

  • eats non-GMO organic food, preferably locally-grown, or better yet – self-grown, or even better – has its growth linked to some social enterprise;
  • is attempting to conserve some heritage site or curate some heritage food etc;
  • is willing to be honest about their shortcomings and failures, and even create a whole talkshow about other people’s shortcomings and failures;
  • has decided to accept themselves as they are, and so, “keep it real”;
  • don’t follow the beaten path, don’t cave into parental or societal pressures, don’t go on conducted tours or stay in tourist resorts but get the authentic experience by hanging out with the locals at local joints that you can’t find in guidebooks.

Andrew Potter has already shown how fake our requirement of authenticity is, and how we squirm when faced with the real thing (eg. the reality that a certain organic brand is owned by Kellogg, or the reality that politicians being human will have the usual human foibles, or that the terrorist who keeps real his desire will attempt to get rid of all Western civilisation and influence, or that the rustic kampong toilet contains snakes and no flush).

kaya + butter on charcoal toastUndoubtedly, contemporary Christians too are stewing unthinkingly in the authenticity culture. The authentic Christian, we assume, is someone who:

  • is engaged in some social enterprise (while wearing organic cottons not made by sweatshop labour, handmade crafty accessories);
  • traces his/her spiritual heritage back to the Church Fathers, or the Puritans, or Calvin, or Luther etc.;
  • is raw and transparent, who doesn’t pretend to have it all together like those older folk in church; who lets it all hang out;
  • is open about how bad a Christian he/she is – always late for church, always forgetful, clumsy…they make him/her oh so relate-able!;
  • is happy to listen to what we share about our arguments with boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses, the sinfulness of our parents/children, what we dislike about church or the pastor or other church members;
  • has had a tough time – growing up in a broken family, turning to a life of violence and drugs, before seeing the light and cleaning up their act (but not their tats, those are way cool). He/she has street cred. Much more real than those privileged kids who grew up waited hand-and-foot by maids, went to the best schools, and sailed into work as bankers and lawyers;
  • knows how broken and sinful he/she is but is happy to live boldly in his/her brokenness and sin, because, he/she proclaims with great faith, God’s grace covers all.

Boy, are we dangerously wrong…

The Budget Kaya Taste Test

Photograph kaya taste test by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

One of the unexpected benefits of knowing the Creator of the world, i’ve come to discover, is an exceptional ability to enjoy the things of this world. One can exclaim confidently,”Ah, my Father made this”, before settling down to delight in his good provision.

Kaya is a marvellous concoction of eggs, coconut milk/cream, sugar, and sometimes, pandan leaves. There is a choice of:

    • “traditional” or “hainanese” kaya that tastes more caramelised and even like dulce de luche; and
    • “nonya” kaya that comes in shades of green from the fragrant pandan leaf goodness within.

Photograph traditional Singapore breakfast at Toast Box by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Kaya jam is usually slathered on some charcoal-grilled toast or steamed soft white bread and this happy duo topped with a slice of butter. For a complete meal, add soft-boiled eggs pepped-up with soya sauce and a dash of white pepper, and some good strong local coffee or tea.

In this taste test, we tried store-bought kaya that cost less than S$3, thereby ruling out the usual stalwarts like Ya Kun, and Killiney Kopitiam.

Sampled were the following brands:

  • Singsia Traditional Kaya Spread
  • Singsia Pandan Kaya Spread
  • Sunshine Homemade Hainanese Kaya
  • Sunshine Homemade Nonya Kaya
  • EveryHome Natural SRJ Egg Kaya
  • Glory Nonya Kaya
  • Uncle Cook’s Premium Quality Pandan Kaya

Photograph OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Surprisingly, it was the strangely green Mustafa-housebrand Uncle Cook’s that won by virtue of its complexity of taste (not too sweet, nor eggy, nor caramelly) and texture (not strangely gel-like or gunky).

I’d very much like to make some myself one day! Recipes for future reference:
Shu Han of mummyicancook
Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost
Bee of Rasa Malaysia
Yvonne Ruperti of Serious Eats