Singapore Cooks

Homecook shares Hainanese kueh recipe

Home cook Ho Soo Pong learnt the recipe for Hainanese yi bua, eaten on special occasions such as weddings, from a relative

Halfway through the interview, Madam Ho Soo Pong sits down at the desk in the living room of her Telok Blangah Housing Board flat and switches on the desktop computer.

The 65-year-old Hainanese retiree is eager to show this reporter some cooking videos she has edited.

She has her own YouTube channel, where she showcases a mix of original content and other food videos. The channel - she uses her full name - had 494 subscribers as of last Friday.

The home cook, a former senior associate engineer in the technical planning department of a telecommunications company, says: "I picked up video editing from my colleague. After I retired in 2009, I attended a video-editing course. It was quite easy for me to pick up the skills because I already had some background knowledge. "

Her food videos centre on Hainanese-style home cooking and include dishes such as stir-fried pig intestines with vegetables and fried large beansprouts with vermicelli.

She is excited to share her recipe for yi bua, a traditional Hainanese glutinous rice flour kueh filled with a coconut, ginger, sesame and peanut filling that has been sweetened with gula melaka.



    For the coconut filling

    350g gula melaka (palm sugar), coarsely chopped

    150ml water

    3 to 4 pandan leaves, washed and knotted together

    150g ginger, peeled and grated medium-fine

    10g orange zest

    500g grated fresh coconut

    11/2 Tbs plain flour

    100g white sesame seeds

    150g peanuts, coarsely ground

    7 large banana leaves, scalded, cleaned and cut into 30 strips, each 5cm by 24cm long

    Peanut oil, to brush on the banana leaves

    Peanut oil, cooked in a pan on medium heat for one minute then cooled, to brush on the steamed yi bua

    Red food colouring, for decoration

    For the rice flour dough (Dough A)

    400ml water

    100ml peanut oil

    100g rice flour

    For the glutinous rice flour dough (Dough B)

    600g glutinous rice flour

    400ml water

    180ml peanut oil


    1. To make the filling: Put the chopped gula melaka and water in a pan on medium-low heat. Add the pandan leaves.

    2. Cook until the gula melaka dissolves and forms a syrup. Remove the pandan leaves and take the pan off the heat. Strain the liquid and pour it back into the pan.

    3. With the heat still on medium-low, add the ginger and orange zest. Stir until the mixture thickens. To test if it is thick enough, prepare a bowl of water. Add a drop of the syrup to the water. If it sinks to the bottom of the bowl, the syrup is ready.

    4. Once the gula melaka syrup is thick enough, turn the heat to low. Add the grated coconut and plain flour. Mix until well combined. Cook until the coconut absorbs the gula melaka syrup. The filling should be only slightly moist.

    5. Add sesame seeds and ground peanuts. Mix well. Take it off the heat and pour it into a clean and dry bowl. Set aside.

    6. Next, make the dough: To make the rice flour dough (Dough A), pour the water, peanut oil and rice flour into a pan on medium heat.

    7. Stir continuously until clumps of dough start to form. Set aside.

    8. To make the glutinous rice flour dough (Dough B), add the glutinous rice flour, followed by the water and peanut oil, into a mixing bowl. Using a spatula or your hand, mix until a dough begins to form.

    9. Add Dough A into the mixing bowl. Knead until both types of dough are well combined. Set aside.

    10. Brush the banana leaves with peanut oil. Take 30g of the dough and flatten it into a round disc about 4 to 5mm thick. It does not have to be perfect.

    11. Place the flattened dough in the palm of your hand and spoon 30g or about two heaped dessert spoonfuls of the coconut filling onto the dough. Wrap the filling in the dough until it forms a ball.

    12. Wrap a banana leaf strip around the ball or yi bua. Tightly tuck in the excess banana leaf at the base, like how you would wrap a present, to cover the section where the ball of dough has been sealed. There is no need to secure the banana leaf as the weight of the yi bua will hold the leaf in place during the steaming process. Next, flatten the yi bua slightly and roughly shape it into a square. It should resemble a small box without a lid. Place the yi bua on a steaming rack.

    13. Repeat to make the rest of the yi bua. (Any leftover dough can be used to make art bua - flatten 30g pieces of dough and boil them in water until they float. Toss these in the same coconut filling to serve).

    14. Steam the yi bua over boiling water for seven minutes.

    15. Remove from heat. Brush each yi bua with cooked peanut oil. After about five to 10 minutes, use the base of a bamboo skewer dipped in red food colouring to dot the centre of each yi bua.

    Makes 30 yi bua. Leftovers can be used to make art bua

ST Food has produced a video recipe of her yi bua for this column.

Her recipe was published in The RSVP Cook Book: The Gift Of Cooking, a cookbook by RSVP Singapore, a non-profit organisation that engages senior citizens through community service programmes.

Madam Ho, who is married to Mr Lim Ah Foo, 72, a retired air traffic controller with whom she has two grown-up daughters, started baking and cooking when she was in secondary school.

Now that she is retired, besides looking after her four grandchildren, aged from five months to 11 years old, and activities such as practising yoga and playing the ukulele, she spends her days in the kitchen.

Her specialities include pandan chiffon cake, various types of Nonya and Hainanese kueh, mooncakes and festive cookies.

She learnt the recipe for yi bua from a relative and has tweaked it over the years after attending several cooking classes.

For example, she recommends adding 11/2 tablespoons of plain flour to the coconut filling so that it is easier to mould and work with.

However, she says, once a home cook becomes more familiar with the filling's texture, the flour can be left out.

The same ingredients can also be used to make art bua, a flat kueh tossed in coconut filling (see Step 13 for how to make it.)

Yi bua is usually enjoyed on special occasions such as housewarming parties and weddings, whereas art bua is more of an everyday treat and eaten at dinner parties and other casual gatherings.

For Madam Ho, sharing home-cooked food with others gives her a sense of satisfaction. She says: "When people eat my food and enjoy it, it makes me proud, happy. And that's all that matters."

• Follow Rebecca Lynne Tan on Twitter @STrebeccatan

• The RSVP Cook Book: The Gift Of Cooking ($20) is available at RSVP Singapore, 08-02 Junction 8 (Office Tower), 9 Bishan Place.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 05, 2017, with the headline 'Celebrate with kueh'. Subscribe