Kueh tutu

Singapore Infopedia


Kueh tutu is a small steamed cake made of finely pounded rice flour with a ground peanuts or grated coconut filling.1 Thought to be Chinese in origin, kueh tutu is believed to be unique to Singapore.2

Kueh tutu is made by steaming rice flour in a flower-shaped mould.3 The mould is first filled with finely pounded rice flour, following which a portion of the flour is taken out to make space for the filling. Another layer of rice flour is then added to seal the filling in, and the cake is tipped over onto a muslin cloth and placed on the steamer.5

When the cake is done, it takes on the flower-like shape of the mould.6 It is then placed on a piece of pandan leaf cut to fit the kueh tutu before serving, so that it acquires the sweet flavour and scent from the pandan.7

The flour used in kueh tutu is traditionally made by pounding rice grains rather than grinding them. The flour is then sifted several times so that it is fine and light.8 Because of influences from the Malay Peninsula, ground peanuts, grated coconut and gula Melaka (palm sugar) are sometimes added as the filling.9 The grated coconut is fried on low heat for several hours and sweetened with gula melaka.10 The cake is also made without filling, as the flour is already slightly sweetened.11

The word kueh means “cake” and likely originated from Zhangzhou, a Southern Min dialect from Fujian Province. Kueh is phoneticised as kuih in Bahasa Melayu.12 Some suggest that the word tutu is a corruption of the word putu, which is a Tamil word for something made with flour and coconut.13 Another possible origin is that tutu was derived from the whistling sound made by charcoal-heated steamers that were used to steam these cakes in the past.14  

Kueh tutu is believed to be a snack that originated from Fujian, China. Tan Yong Fa from Fujian, who sold the cakes in Singapore during the 1930s, was credited for popularising this snack. He originally sold san kueh, which is a large plain cake made of rice crumbs and had no filling. The kueh eventually evolved to smaller portions and with fillings such as grated coconut and peanuts.15

Cities in Malaysia known for their cuisine – such as Penang and Kuala Lumpur – did not sell kueh tutu, which is believed to be unique to Singapore.16 In the 1980s, Singaporean Tay Low Long designed steam carts and stainless steel moulds to make kueh tutu. He developed his recipe based on his childhood memories of the kueh tutu made by a vendor in the Joo Chiat neighbourhood. He then revived the dish by setting up more than 20 kueh tutu outlets in major supermarkets and department stores such as Cold Storage and Yaohan.17

In recent years, the iconic snack had inspired the creation of several Singapore related souvenirs, such as the kueh tutu erasers and cushions.18

Kueh tutu is often mistakenly referred to as putu piringThe latter, which is of Malay origin, is a saucer-shaped steamed cake made of flour, filled with only gula melaka and eaten with grated coconut.19

Variant spellings
Kuih tutu (Malay)
Kueh kutu (Baba Malay)20

Bonny Tan

1. Margaret Chan, “Piping-Hot Kueh Tutu Just Like Father’s,” Straits Times, 23 November 1986, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
2. May Ho, “A Tart of Multiracial Origins?Straits Times, 2 July 1987, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
3. May Ho, “The Kueh Tutu Lives On,” Straits Times, 2 July 1987. 1. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Ho, “Tart of Multiracial Origins?
5. May Ho, “The Entrepreneur As Designer,” Straits Times, 2 July 1987, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Ho, “Entrepreneur As Designer.” 
7. Thng Lay Teen, “Tutu Tasty To Resist,” Straits Times, 16 March 2008, 70. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Chan, “Piping-Hot Kueh Tutu.”
9. Douglas Foo, “Tarts Made the 1920s Way,” Straits Times, 5 October 2003, 39. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Ho, “Entrepreneur As Designer.” 
11. Thng, “Tutu Tasty To Resist.”
12. Christopher Tan, The Way of Kueh: Savouring & Saving Singapore's Heritage Desserts (Singapore: National Heritage Board, 2019), 2. (Call no. RSING 641.595957 TAN)
13. Ho, “Tart of Multiracial Origins?”; May Ho, “Tutu, Kutu or Putu,” Straits Times, 23 July 1987, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Tan, Way of Kueh, 64–65.
15. Tan, Way of Kueh, 64–65; Foo, “Tarts Made the 1920s Way”; Chan, “Piping-Hot Kueh Tutu”; Lim Yi Han, “Hard Toil and Good Times on the Streets,” Straits Times, 16 July 2013, 14–15 (From NewspaperSG); Thng, “Tutu Tasty To Resist.”
16. Ho, “Tart of Multiracial Origins?
17. Ho, “The Kueh Tutu Lives On.”
18. Cheryl Faith Wee and Kenneth Goh, “Uniquely Singapore Souvenirs,” Straits Times, 1 July 2012, 2; Marianne Wee-Slater, “Gifts Galore, All Made in Singapore,” Today, 18 December 2015, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Ho, “Tart of Multiracial Origins?; Violet Oon, “Local Snack Delight With a Difference,” Singapore Monitor, 3 February 1985, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Ho, “Tutu, Kutu or Putu.”

The information in this article is valid as of April 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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