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Curious Origin of Kueh Pie Tee or Top Hat


I love kueh pie tee which is a common dish in Nyonya restaurants and homes. But, I always thought it a bit odd as the crispy cup or top hat as it is sometimes called doesn't seemed to be an Asian or Southeast Asian thing. The fillings are similar to Hokkien popiah and the sambal is clearly from the Malay archipelago. But, where did the crispy cup come from?

I have been wondering how kueh pie tee became a quintessentially Nyonya dish. 🤔
Kueh pie tee recipe from My Favourite Recipes

There is a kueh pie tee recipe in Ellice Handy's revered cookbook My Favourite Recipes - the first edition published in 1952. This is the earliest documented reference to pie tee. Ms Handy listed the pie tee as a Chinese dish (her book did not have a Peranakan section). (Note: The photo is from a reprint of the book, hence the colour image.)

The pie tee filling in Ms Handy recipe has shredded yam bean, bamboo shoot, pork and diced prawns. The ingredients are sautéed and left to simmer to absorb the stock, sauce and aromatics' flavours. Handy's recipe is quintessentially Chinese as it uses bamboo shoot which symbolises Spring and the reason why popiah is known in Chinese as 春卷 Spring roll. 

Straits Times 1954

This 1954 article in the Straits Times mentioned a dish "pie tee" which "consists of bits of meat and vegetable packed in a tiny pastry cup and bathed in two delicate sauces".

Was it good? The author Francis Wong said "Once you start eating, you can't stop".

In a Malayan Kitchen

In her 1956 book In a Malayan Kitchen, Ms Susie Hing has a "Java Kwei Patti" recipe, also known as "kroket tjanker". The filling is made with beef, pork, potatoes, carrot, etc., stewed in butter and milk. It was not the Hokkien popiah type filling.

The Dutch style filling, the reference to Java, in a British Malaya era cookbook suggests that the dish had came from the Dutch East Indies (today's Indonesia) to Malaya (today's Malaysia).

But, it is still unclear when, where or who first put Spring roll (popiah) type filling into the crispy party patty cup / hat. 

In her book, Ms Susie has a picture of a "kwei patti iron".

Singapore Free Press, 1958

This reference from the The Singapore Free Press was dated 1 Apr 1958. The author suggested that readers should add a "kwei patty iron" to their kitchen arsenal.

Thanks to Christopher Tan author of The Way of Kueh for being the first to uncover the link between kueh pie tee, "kwei patti iron", and the patty mould.

It is what it is, the patty mould for making patty shells, the mother of kueh pie tee cups. The family resemblance is obvious once you see the patty mould.

In our region, the two best known patty mould makers are Griswold from USA and Hirco from Japan.  

The crispy patty shells are for holding salad, peas, chopped meat, oyster, custard, icing, etc. It's anything goes, all up to the chef's imagination.

So, "pie tee" is the Baba patois for "patty". Sounds convincing to me.


Fill it yourself kueh pie tee, just like roll it yourself popiah.

Remember, Hokkien popiah style fillings were already filling kueh pie tee cups in the 1950s (reference Ms Handy's recipe).


So, the Peranakans put the familiar popiah filling of stir fried shallot, garlic, dried shrimp, yam bean, carrot, etc., into the pie tee cup. Eat the crispy shell filled with soft savoury umami sweet filling. Give it a spicy chili kick with a dab of stinging hot sambal. 

Voila, one more tasty feather in the Peranakan cuisine hat.

So kueh pie tee is a patty cup with a Hokkien twist which Peranakans have embraced wholeheartedly.

This likely happened after the Peranakans were introduced to patty cups, enjoyed it and then tweaked it to their tastes - enjoying both until the Western style fillings such as kroket tjanker (Ms Susie Hing's 1950s recipe) faded from local menus. 

Wikipedia Creative Commons image

Kueh pie tee is a fine example of how Peranakan culture adapts and integrates elements from other cultures into its own. Hence, in lists of Nyonya kueh we will find Chinese ang ku kueh, Javanese klepon (called ondeh ondeh by the Peranakans), and the patty cup as kueh pie tee.

Today, kueh pie tee is considered quintessentially Peranakan, and it took quite involved investigative research by Christopher Tan to uncover its precursor the patty cup.

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Written by Tony Boey on 28 May 2024



  1. It was quite interesting to know about it when I came across Christopher Tan’s revelation in his video.
    To quote, “Mindful eating (i.e., paying attention to our food, on purpose, moment by moment, without judgment) is an approach to food that focuses on individuals' sensual awareness of the food and their experience of the food.” … including knowing the historical background of the dish, my addition.

  2. Maï Siãö Siao28 May 2024 at 20:13

    I don't care so much lah, if it's nice food, I'll nom nom nom nom like Cookie Monster. 🤣🤣🤣


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