Johor Kaki Travels for Food

Tony Boey johorkaki@gmail 🇸🇬 Singapore active senior travel & lifestyle diary. Food posts are gifts to hawkers

Ghim Moh Chwee Kueh. Last & Only Handmade Teochew Water Cake Stall in Singapore 李老三传统水粿

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Trays of freshly steamed chwee kueh - a scene you can only see at Ghim Moh Chwee Kueh, the last and only water cake stall that still make and steam their cakes at the stall. It feels and tastes different from central kitchen supplied chwee kwee, so public reactions to it are mixed.

Stall name: Ghim Moh Chwee Kueh 李老三传统水粿


Address: 20 Ghim Moh Road, stall #01-54, Singapore 270020 (Ghim Moh Market & Food Centre)


Nearest MRT station: Buona Vista


Hours: 6:30am - 6:30pm



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Boss 李老三 age 72 this year proudly showing me a photo of the family's old push cart stall. The stall was founded by his mum in 1959. The stall in the photo was ran by 李老三's eldest brother, 老大. (李老三's second brother 老二 now runs Tai Chong coffee stall also at Ghim Moh Food Centre. 李老三's actual name is Lee San Ba 李三峇.)

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李老三 is the shy little 8 year old boy in the old photo. So, old Mr. Lee spent an entire lifetime making and selling Teochew chwee kueh. The most senior artisan of the trade today.

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李老三 is supported by his wife all these decades. Now, his son-in-law has joined the business, so we will see handmade chwee kueh for at least another generation.

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To make chwee kueh, a solution of rice flour and water is poured into hundreds of tiny aluminium bowls.

In the old days, the little bowls were made of reddish-brown colour clay or ceramic. In the past, 李老三 (and other chwee kueh makers) would mill their own rice flour from scratch with rice grains. Now, they use ready made rice flour.

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The stacks of little cups of rice solution are cooked in a steaming tower. You can see 李老三 do this at the stall as he had done for decades.

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李老三 proudly showed me a freshly steamed chwee kueh, drawing my attention to the shallow dimple in the middle of the cake. 李老三 said this dimple is achieved by mastery in controlling the temperature and timing in steaming.

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Chwee Kueh is a simple Teochew dish. Traditionally, it is eaten with a topping of preserved radish (chai poh) stewed in lard. At 李老三, the lard and chai poh topping has garlic in it and is kept simmering over a charcoal stove. The chai poh topping in the pot needs constant stirring to keep it from burning.

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As the English say, the ultimate proof of the rice pudding is in the eating.

Water cakes with a bit of chai poh and lard sitting in the little dimple. Price 50 cents per cake. Minimum order, 4 cakes.

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I shall compare Ghim Moh chwee kueh with Bedok chwee kueh which I have tasted a few times before. (Bedok chwee kueh are made at a central kitchen and widely distributed through outlets around Singapore.)

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Compared with Bedok chwee kueh, Ghim Moh's rice cakes are slightly smaller but denser, firmer. Bedok chwee kueh is jelly-like and jiggles a little.

Bedok chwee kueh is also slightly sweeter. Rice sweetness is hardly discernible in Ghim Moh's rice cakes.

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Ghim Moh's chai poh topping is softer while Bedok's have a slight tender gritty, crunch to the bite. Ghim Moh's tastes mainly salty while Bedok's is less salty with a bit of sweetness. Ghim Moh use lard in their stewed chai poh while Bedok use only vegetable oil.

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Thank you 李老三 and wife for steadfastly upholding the tradition of making chwee kueh, the old way.


Chye_Kee_Chwee_Kueh
Chye Kee Chwee Kueh at Circuit Road Food Centre was the last wholly artisanal water cake maker in Singapore (including milling their own rice flour from scratch). They closed in 2015 😥
Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to visit them just before they rolled down their shutters for the last time.

Written by Tony Boey on 29 Apr 2021

1 comment:

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