Savoury Or Kuih (steamed yam cake) recipe from Madam Lily Wong

Or kuih (yam cake) © Adrian Cheah

Or Kuih is a mashed steamed yam cake garnished with fried dried shrimps, shallot crisps, spring onions and diced chillies. The cake is light and flavourful, best eaten with chilli sauce or "ti ciau" (fermented sweet soy sauce). Delicious yam cake must be soft with the rich taste of yam chunks.

"Yam" as it is often known in Malaysia is actually taro. Yam is the common name for some plant species in the genus Dioscorea that form edible tubers and there are many variety of yam available in the world. However, to be preciously correct, taro is what is need for Or Kuih. Thus, in this story, I am going local and will keep to "yam".

Or kuih (yam cake) © Adrian Cheah

To make a plate of delicious yam cake, it is important to select the right yam as it is the star ingredient of the dish. Ask your trusted vegetable seller to choose a unit for you as they would be able to pick out one that will give the cake the desired fluffy ("sang") texture. Without this quality, the yam cake will be flat no matter what toppings are added.

Some yam cake recipes suggest that the yam be steamed first than mash smoothly.

One yam cake stall in Penang that stood out was Madam Tan Sooi Kooi's. Her irresistible yam cake was once available at Lam Heng coffee shop in Macalister Road, alongside the Famous Sisters' char koay teow. I love the generous topping of fried dried shrimps and crispy fried shallots. Those were the good old days. Madam Tan is now happily retired and the coffee shop has been leased out.

Or kuih (yam cake) © Adrian Cheah

Ingredients

250 g yam, cubed
250 g rice flour
50 g tapioca flour
500 ml water

3 tbsp cooking oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
10 pieces of dried shitake mushrooms, re-hydrated and diced
50 g dried prawns, soaked to soften the texture
1 tsp five-spice powder 
Salt and white pepper to taste

Garnishing

100 g dried shrimps, re-hydrated, diced finely and sautéed with some oil till fragrant
2 red chillies, diced
Spring onions, cut finely
Fried shallots, cut finely

Or kuih (yam cake) © Adrian Cheah

Method

  1. Soak the mushrooms and when softened, cut them into little cubes. Keep the water used for soaking to fry the other ingredients later. Pan-fry the mushrooms with a bit of oil and chopped garlic till fragrant.
  2. Add the dried prawns and fry about 5 minutes till fragrant.
  3. Add yam cubes and fry for about 5-10 minutes on low heat. To the mushrooms and dried prawns add the water used for soaking the mushroom and dried prawns a little at a time. Season with five-spice powder, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  4. Pour both types of flour into a mixing bowl together with the salt and white pepper. Use 500 ml water to carefully combine everything in the bowl. Make sure there are no lumps in the batter prepared.
  5. Pour the batter into a wok, stirring constantly at medium heat. When the batter begins to coagulate, turn off the heat.
  6. Add in the prepared mushrooms and yam cubes. Mix well.
  7. Pour all the ingredient into a slightly greased tray for steaming, ensuring that all is packed tightly in the tray.
  8. Steam at high heat for 30 – 35 minutes.
  9. Cool before cutting up the yam cake or removing it from the tray.
  10. Garnish with chopped red chillies, dried shallots, spring onions and sautéed dried shrimps.

Or kuih (yam cake) © Adrian Cheah

Or kuih (yam cake) © Adrian Cheah

My mum used to make yam cake during my schooling days. She would add minced char siew (grilled Chinese barbeque pork) into her yam cake which added texture into the dish.

My aunty used to sell trays and trays of yam cake on Sunday mornings at the Happy Garden market in Kuala Lumpur. Auntie Jo would steam the yam cake on Saturday night, fresh and ready for the Sunday market. Throngs of satisfied customers would be at her stall, queuing eagerly to buy her delicious offerings. Besides yam cake, also on offer were radish cake, "lo mai fan" (steamed Chinese glutinous rice), fried noodles and bee hoon, 'tai lok mee' (thick, black savoury lardy Hokkien mee) along with "thong sui" (a sweet soup dessert) and "teik chia" (a red sugarcane with water chestnut drink). Business would start around 7:00 am and by 9:00 am, all would be gone. Her marvellous culinary skills ensured a roaring business every Sunday.

After working for more that 13 years, Auntie Jo finally decided to give up the business in 2003 as age was catching up. Imagine frying 24 packets of bee hoon, 12 packets each time in one humongous wok. Stirring the yam cake was equally back-breaking. I would use great energy stirring the yam cake and as the paste thickened, I would be out of steam. But it was easy for my aunty. She would do it with ease as it all boils down to skill and technique.

I can still vividly remember my weekends at Auntie Jo's when I was in college in Kuala Lumpur. I did what little I could to help out but it was always amazing to see Auntie Jo in her element. My six years in Kuala Lumpur were filled with glorious feasts. Auntie Jo saw to it that I ate well and would cook my favourite dishes when I was at her home. I am indeed blessed and ever so grateful to Auntie Jo, Uncle Louis and my cousins, Michelle and Lawrence for the cherished memories of those years in Kuala Lumpur.

Or kuih (yam cake) © Adrian Cheah

Try making your own yam cake. It is easy and you can even add pork to it. Adding lard to anything is a game changer. Be inventive and you might be in for a welcoming surprise.

---------------------------------------------------------
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah 
Recipe from Lily Wong
© All rights reserved
3 March 2020

Or kuih (yam cake) © Adrian Cheah

Madam Lily Wong, an accomplished cook, loves to share her recipes and techniques with everyone. She holds cooking classes to divulge secrets behind traditional Nyonya dishes, kuih-kuih and more. This yam cake recipe was shared by Lily at a cooking class organised by Penang Heritage Trust on 23 February 2020.