"Whis-Kueh": A Spirited Local Tasting Experience with Whisky and Kueh
Editor: This is a ticketed experience you should definitely check out if you’re in Singapore or visiting anytime this June to August.
When we talk about "craft" gin, "craft" whisky, or "craft" beer, these terms conjure images of small-scale, independently-owned (sometimes family-run) breweries and distilleries that employ traditional production methods. Quality is emphasised over massive production. Tradition is retained; the old ways of doing things persist against the odds of modern advancements that would improve profit margins.
But the idea of "craft production" really applies across culture and culinary themes. Traditional Asian business culture emphasises pragmatism, and so you won't see Asian businesses falling over themselves to market their brands and products. But if we know where to look, we'll find many precious examples of small craft productions in Southeast Asia passing down old techniques and recipes that have remained the same for close to a hundred years.
Tong Heng is a Singaporean heritage patisserie that specialises in South Chinese pastries (e.g. egg tarts). The family-run business has been in operation since the 1920s and is currently run by the 4th generation.
Kueh (also "kuih", "guo" or "粿") is the perfect symbol of the diversity and diffusion of culture across borders in Southeast Asia and South China. Travel through this region and you'll see this snack in many different shapes and forms – similar in name and base ingredients – but with a little of each region's cultural identity baked into them. It's hard to pinpoint the exact origin of the humble kueh, but the snack was made famous by the wealthy Straits-Chinese (or Peranakan) settlers in the Malay archipelago who appropriated the dish and made it their own- creating the colourful range of Nyonya Kueh.
Kueh is so integral to Southeast Asian culture today, many Asians today continue the practice of offering the snack for ancestral worship or for rituals during festivals. For some, these kueh are a nostalgic reminder of their childhood, when they had to sit around a table with family members to hand-make the intricate and delicate snacks together.
Many modern kueh no longer allow us to separate one distinct culture's fingerprints in them. Instead, they incorporate a mix of Malay, Indonesian, Cantonese and Peranakan influences, creating beautiful snacks steeped in culture of peoples from across Asia.
And what better way to experience this rich heritage than to actually walk along Singapore's famous heritage paths, visit the old sites of the first kueh bakeries, before retiring to a cosy spot for some craft whisky paired with kueh from the most renowned traditional patisseries?
Singaporean whisky bottler, INTERCO-MLE and walking-tour organiser Indie Tours has put together an unusual 2-part experience that would run from now till the end of August: Whis-Kueh (whisky + kueh)
The guided experience entails a 30-minute walking tour along Singapore's heritage trail in Chinatown, brief visits to the most famous local kueh-makers (including Poh Guan and Tong Guan), before ending with a 1 hour tasting session where INTERCO's high quality small batch whiskies and rums are paired with kuehs from famous local patisseries.
I've attended this tour myself and found it a surprisingly educational and enjoyable experience. The guided tour provided an in-depth and captivating history about kueh in pre-war Singapore and a look at the labour-intensive work involved in making these intricate snacks. Special guests from these kueh-making families may be invited who would share some of their stories, and their trials and tribulations in maintaining the traditions of their decades-old businesses.
The tour ends off with a gentle reminder that businesses producing these traditional snacks are slowly dying out. The kueh would someday disappear from our dining tables altogether.
The second part was quite a bit more upbeat. The walking tour segment ends at Furama City Centre, where the team has curated a selection of beautiful kuehs from Singapore's best kueh patisseries. I particularly enjoyed the red kueh with an aromatic peanut filling (top of dish) – for the life of me I cannot remember the name of this kueh!
The Laksa-flavoured kueh salat (center-left of image) was my favourite. This one's savoury with curry leaves, a layer of spicy shrimp paste and aromatic blue pea rice. A memorable kueh.
The food is paired with a curated selection of 4 whiskies and rum from INTERCO-MLE. There's a Shizuoka Contact S, Monymusk Colours of Singapore Jamaican rum, Ben Nevis bottled by Ingelred, and a secret Islay Malt bottled by Blackadder Peat Reek.
The drinks and kueh paired surprisingly well. My favourite pairings were the Shizuoka Contact S with the Durian paste dessert, and the smoky Islay Malt which really compliments the salty, savoury richness of the Laksa kueh salat.
This is an ongoing ticketed experience that would be happening over the next couple of months until the end of August. I can imagine any whisky lover who grew up in Southeast Asia would really dig this 🍥
Each ticket is priced at S$120 (US$85). A pretty affordable deal for so much food and great spirits in my opinion.
If this is something you'd be interested in, feel free to check out further details and purchase tickets on Indie Tours' website here.
On the whole, the experience was rather refreshing and memorable- even for a born and bred Singaporean person (myself) who thinks everything there is to know about his own country is already known to him. A tour you can taste! It's also a reminder that every culture has something precious to preserve that we often overlook. All this is made more special since these heritage snacks – made by traditional craft production methods – won't be with us forever.
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