Fun fact: I am one-sixteenth of a Nyonya.
No kidding. My father’s father’s father (that’s my great grandfather if you’re not great with family trees) was a Baba who lived in an actual Peranakan house. I think. That’s what I’ve been told anyway. Or remember having been told… Ah, that’s the thing about history, isn’t it? It is so malleable.
In some sense, I guess you could say it resembles food-making: you take what you remember and make do with what you have – sometimes you add, sometimes you subtract, sometimes you choose to follow a recipe to the T and it could still be nowhere close to the original. But that’s what I love about being in the kitchen – being able to at the end of the day hold in my hands something so intimately and personally crafted yet imbued with so much tradition and memory.
One particular Peranakan delight (affectionately known as kueh) that has always reserved itself a special place in my heart is the onde-onde. For as long as I can remember, my dad and I have both been aficionados of kuehs, but he especially loves onde-ondes. My first ever attempt at making it was on his birthday four years back – he loved it and requested for me to make it again but I never did get round to it. (Cue: boo me!)
This year, I decided to spring him a lovely surprise with freshly made onde-ondes literally four years in the waiting. It was quite a miracle they turned out well given that I’d made them based on trial-and-error. 🙂
But the best part of everything wasn’t to do with successfully producing the onde-ondes. Rather, it was seeing the joy and appreciation inscribed all over my dad’s face as he looked at me reminiscently, joking, “I hope I won’t have to wait another four years, princess.”
Sweet Potato Onde-Onde
Makes: Approximately 30 mini onde-onde balls (33 kcal/mini onde-onde)
- 1 medium-sized sweet potato, boiled and mashed (180 g)
- Glutinous rice flour (120 g)
- Room temperature water (200 ml)
- Pot of water for cooking balls
- Bowl of ice-cold water
- 1/6 cup caster sugar (optional)
- 1 tsp pandan paste
- Gula melaka, finely chopped
- Shredded coconut (freshly grated)
- Pinch of salt
- Combine mashed sweet potatoes (cooled to room temperature), glutinous rice flour and caster sugar (of the two batches I attempted, I personally preferred the batch without added sugar).
- Create a well in the middle of dry mixture. Add water in little by little, using a fork to pull and scrape the dry mixture into the water from the sides of bowl.
- Flour hands sparingly with more glutinous rice flour, proceeding to knead wet and dry mixture into a ball (resulting dough should feel tacky, not sticky).
- Add pandan paste to dough, adjusting paste amount according to colour preference.
- Shaping the onde-onde: Pinch off a small amount of dough (around a teaspoon). Flatten in palm, making a depression in the middle to contain gula melaka. Compress a little gula melaka in other hand, enough to fill the depression but not too much to prevent possible bursting of onde-onde balls while cooking. Pinch edges of dough into each other before rolling gently into a ball. Repeat for remaining dough.
- Cooking the onde-onde: Bring the additional pot of water to boil. While waiting for water to boil, steam grated coconut, adding a pinch of salt.
- Cook the onde-onde balls in the boiling water (make sure not to crowd the pot with too many at a time). Remove when floating (takes about 3-4 minutes) and transfer to ice-cold water (this is to enhance chewiness of the onde-onde). Remove after a minute, coat in coconut. Enjoy!