We recently put up a call for our food trail contest and it only confirmed our suspicion that Singaporeans are just crazy about food. Chili crab, putu mayam, kueh tutu, roti prata, chicken rice, so many submissions detailing our collective obsession of local delicacies! So I’m going to announce the winner who will be joining mrbrown, Miyagi and Dr Leslie Tay at one of the pit stops during their EPIC 18-hour food trail around the whole of Singapore tomorrow 🙂 Check our twitter hashtag #sgmemory and like us on Facebook for live updates!
Congratulations to Jacky Tan, who sent in this great story on Kueh Tutu! Read on for the winning submission~
Tu Tu Kueh: A Memory of Jacky Tan
Tu Tu Kueh (cake) is a traditional white rice cake with coconut or peanut fillings placed on a pandan leave. The history of Tu Tu Kueh goes way back to the 1930s when one of the Tan’s family ancestor, Tan Eng Huat, came to Singapore and started the hawker business here. According to the Tan family ancestor, the name of “Tu Tu” came about from the sound of the steamer used for making the cake. The business was later passed down to his son, Tan Cheong Chuan, who helped modernised the first Tu Tu Kueh’s steamer machine with electric heater, expanded the business and built up the brand name – “Tan’s Family Tu Tu Kueh”.
Time flies and Singapore has modernised so much since my childhood days. Each time I smell the fragrance of a Tu Tu Kueh, it brings back fond memories of my childhood days .
Some of my fondest memories from the 70s when I was a little boy include trips downtown, which I always look forward to. I remember travelling on a noisy, rumbling SBS bus No. 5 to People’s Park Centre. In those days, there were many unlicensed hawker stalls at the open ground between People’s Park Centre and the then Majestic Theatre, many more than what the younger generation now can imagine. One of those hawker stalls was Tan’s Tu Tu Kueh.
From a distance, you will recognise the Tu Tu Kueh stall by its iconic aluminium tricycle fitted with a red metal frame. But as one gets nearer to the Tu Tu Kueh stall, one can catch a whiff of the fragrant pandan leaves and hear the familiar sound of the steam coming out from the steamer, as well as the sound of the metal steamer covers clanging against each other.
At the stall, “Ah Tan”, “Lau Tan” or “Tu Tu Tan” were some of the names that regular customers addressed the Tu Tu Kueh hawker when they placed their orders. The price was only 10 cents for each kueh then!? Some older folks told me that they paid only 5 cents or even lesser in their earlier days.
While waiting for the Tu Tu Kueh, like any naughty child, I would climb up the tricycle seat, held its handle imagining I was maneuvering a big truck, pressed the bell as if I was playing a musical instrument and pulled the handbrake as if to make a emergency stop. Well, it was just some childish imagination. How silly I was then, just thinking about it makes me laugh.
As a family, we would shop around People’s Park Centre during the day but as night fell, we would walk over to Chinatown street pasar malam (night market), which was our usual practice then. In those days, Chinatown was constantly bustling with people which you can only experience nowadays during the Chinese New Year period. However, in those days, it was a common sight. There, again you will find in the midst of the crowd the very same Tu Tu Kueh stall owner who has moved his stall over to Chinatown street for the night. From a distance, you could see the brightly-lit gas lamp from the tricycle shining down the street. Sometimes, one couldn’t help but to have a second helping of the Tu Tu Kueh here.
According to records, the original Tan’s Family Tu Tu Kueh stalls are now located at few places such as Havelock Road and Clementi. Singapore has changed drastically over the years, old buildings redeveloped, street hawkers replaced by air-conditioned foodcourts, but the smell and taste of the Tu Tu Kueh still remains the same. The moment you take a bite of it….it brings back warm and sweet memories. Oh, how I missed those days. : )
Photos and Text: Jacky Tan
Singapore Memory Project