Cheap & Good

'Yuan yang' muah chee at Circuit Road Food Centre's Heavenly Snack

The “yuan yang” muah chee.
The “yuan yang” muah chee.ST PHOTO: CHEW HUI MIN

Mr Andy Tan tips a tin of muah chee into a wooden tray, deftly cuts it into roughly 1cm-wide cubes and tosses them in ground, roasted sesame seeds.

The first time I come across the unassuming muah chee stall, tucked in a corner of Circuit Road Food Centre, I am struck by how intently he prepares each serving of the chewy snack, which is made with glutinous rice flour.

The "yuan yang" muah chee - a mix of both white and black sesame muah chee - is served in a boat-shaped dish with decorative tooth picks. If you order it to go, it comes in a pretty paper gift box.

My muah chee ($2.80) also comes with instructions.

"The pieces are cut small so a larger surface area is coated with ground sesame, but to get more bite and flavour, eat two pieces at a time," Mr Tan says.

  • HEAVENLY SNACK

  • Block 79A Circuit Road Food Centre, 01-106, open: 11.30am to 10pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday

    Rating: 4 stars

The 52-year-old also cuts the pieces small so they are easier for children and the elderly to chew.

It is evident that much thought has gone into his muah chee.

The black sesame version, my favourite, comes with a muah chee dough that is infused with black sesame flavour. The glutinous rice dough is less sticky and oily than most local versions. But it is not like Japanese mochi either, as it has quite a bit more bounce to it.

The sesame coating is fragrant, but not too sweet, and there is a light crunch.

It is a perfect and not-too-sinful ending to lunch at the hawker centre, but the fancy presentation seems more appropriate for a tea house than a hawker centre.

Mr Tan has also added a new flavour of muah chee. His pandan muah chee with grated coconut topping ($3) is even chewier than the sesame version and has a light pandan aroma that comes from real pandan leaves.

The coconut topping is his own - a mix of toasted and untoasted coconut flakes and a blend of five different types of sugar. To add a dash of glamour, he sprinkles some silver mini balls on them. It is unconventional, but moreish.

Mr Tan has been a hawker for only about a year. He was a car-parts manufacturer until his business failed a few years ago.

He says he wanted a taste of his childhood and bought some muah chee at a pasar malam, but found it to be terrible. That was when he began channelling his skill for machining car parts into engineering muah chee.

It took him 40 tries to get the sesame muah chee right and 20 to perfect the pandan-flavoured one.

He believes his version is an improvement on traditional muah chee, while retaining its Singapore roots.

"Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are known for their mochi, but we have our own Singapore muah chee," he said. "I don't want people to think our muah chee is the pasar malam version."

The flipside of his passion for handmaking every portion is that every order takes at least five minutes to prepare and a queue of three means a 15-minute wait. But for me, it is definitely worth it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 21, 2016, with the headline ''Yuan yang' muah chee'. Print Edition | Subscribe