Foodie Confidential With Wong Ah Yoke

Ang Ku Kueh Girl creator Wang Shijia inspired by a sweet snack

Wang Shijia, who created a cartoon character based on ang ku kueh, likes the chewy skin and paste filling of the snack

When Wang Shijia wanted to come up with a character for a new range of accessories in 2012, food was first on her mind.

At that time, she was vice-president of investment with CapitaLand, but was also making accessories with a local theme as a hobby and selling them.

She used to make them in the shape of stars in red and white for National Day, but felt those designs were too direct with obvious visual elements.

A seminar conducted by a design group, where the speaker talked about how all new ideas are just a combination of two or more existing ideas, set off a light bulb in her head.

She would create a character and combine it with something that Singaporeans love, which is food. And she settled on ang ku kueh, something she likes to eat.

The local sweet snack, which is Hokkien for "red tortoise cake", comes in lucky red and is the shape of a tortoise, which represents longevity.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • It will also be with my family and the meal would comprise each of their specialities, such as my mum's fried rice with raw garlic, my father's hairy melon with tanghoon and my mother-in-law's pumpkin paste with pork slices. And, of course, my jiao zi. Just simple dishes.

"Giving it to friends is like a blessing, wishing them luck," says Wang, 40.

So Ang Ku Kueh Girl was born - a cartoon character in a green dress and a red bonnet topped with a green tortoise.

It first appeared on a set of three notebooks and folders, but has now become so popular that the range features more than 20 items, including bags, pendants and earrings.

They are sold at souvenir shops at major tourist attractions and novelty shops.

Wang quit her CapitaLand job in 2013 to work on the business full time.

Her latest venture is an Ang Ku Kueh book for children titled The Magical Dragon Playground, which is published by Epigram Books.

She will launch it at the Imagine/ Native - Creative Fest For Kids events organised by Resorts World Sentosa from Friday to June 12 at the S.E.A. Aquarium.

The book will also be released at the Singapore Book Fair organised by Singapore Press Holdings' Chinese Media Group from June 3 to 9 at Suntec Singapore.

Wang has been married for seven years to a senior director in corporate real estate. They are expecting their first child.

What do you like about ang ku kueh?

I don't have a sweet tooth, but I like food that comes in little bundles. I also like png kueh, curry puff, dim sum and jiao zi (boiled meat dumpling).

I just like the chewy skin of ang ku kueh and the paste inside. I've liked it since I was young, but I can't eat too many at one go, just one or two. They are too filling.

Where do you get it from?

I usually buy it from Ji Xiang Ang Ku Kueh in Everton Park, which is near my home in Tanjong Pagar. My favourite is the traditional one with mung bean filling, but among the new flavours, I like the corn filling most.

At Ji Xiang, you can see the workers making the kueh on the spot, so it feels very authentic.

What makes a good ang ku kueh?

For me, the glutinous rice skin must not be too thick and it must be chewy. The mung bean paste cannot be too sweet and you should still taste the beans. It must not be covered with pandan or any other flavour. The kueh cannot be too oily either.

Do you cook?

The only thing I cook is jiao zi. I learnt to make it from a friend.

I like the idea of making the dumplings, cooking them, eating them and then making some more. I learnt to make them from scratch, including the flour wrapper.

Where do you eat your daily meals?

On weekends, my husband and I go to my parents and in-laws' homes for home-cooked food.

On weekdays, we eat out or pack home food for dinner. A place we enjoy is Madam Kwan's at VivoCity for Penang laksa, although sometimes we eat the nasi lemak instead.

Malaysia Food Street in Resorts World Sentosa is another regular spot because it is not too far from Tanjong Pagar.

I usually order the Penang laksa there too because I like sour food. I prefer it to local laksa. And I usually end the meal with ice kacang.

Do you go to Penang to eat it?

My husband and I went to Penang about two years ago. We didn't look for famous stalls, but ate the dish wherever we found it.

What are your other favourite foods?

Png kueh, which I would eat anywhere as long as the skin is not too thick. Right now, I have a favourite one at Amoy Street food centre. The stall sells it either steamed or panfried and I prefer the steamed one.

I discovered the stall because I was looking for another favourite food at the food centre. It's from a stall called simply Spinach Soup, which used to be at Shenton House. But it closed and I did not know where it went until someone told me it was at Amoy Street.

It sells a soup dish with lots of spinach and either seafood or salted egg and century egg. You eat it with rice or thick beehoon.

I like it because it feels healthy, it's not oily and tastes light. But you have to go early to avoid the lunchtime queues.

You seem to like light-tasting food.

Yes, I would eat yong tau foo without sauce.

I usually go to a stall in China Square and the seller knows what I want. She calls it "bai bai" (Mandarin for white white).

The yong tau foo is served in soup and the yellow noodles dry, but without chilli sauce or sweet sauce, not even soya sauce.

I like the original taste of the noodles. Otherwise, you would be just tasting sauce.

That's the reason I don't like Sichuan mala hotpot. You taste just the mala spiciness. You can't taste the ingredients at all.

But I've started to like bak kut teh despite its peppery soup. I go to Song Fa at Chinatown Point and Outram Park Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh at Tanjong Pagar Complex.

What else don't you eat?

I don't eat anything exotic, after a bad experience many years ago in Xinjiang, when I was travelling there with friends.

We were in Urumqi and, at a night market, we bought some fried silk cocoons. I was the one who wanted to try them, so I ate most of them.

That night, back at the hotel which was in a remote area up a mountain, my eyes, nose and throat swelled up.

I almost couldn't breathe.

My friend, who knows about meridian points, telephoned a traditional Chinese medicine doctor she knew to ask what to do.

She massaged me and, half an hour later, after I went to the toilet to flush everything out, the symptoms subsided.

That was the most exotic thing I've eaten and the most scary. And it wasn't even nice - it had an insect kind of smell.

If you could choose anyone in the world to have a meal with, who would that be?

It would be with my family - father, mother, sister, husband and in-laws. People I love and who love me.

For me, food is not just what you eat, but also who you eat with.

•Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 22, 2016, with the headline 'Designer inspired by a sweet snack'. Print Edition | Subscribe