Yi Buah, The Little Known Hainanese Kueh

Yi buah is a kueh that not many Singaporeans know about, hardly a surprising fact given that the Hainanese community is a small one in Singapore. It is to the Hainanese what ang ku kuehs are to the Teochews – it appears on the table in Hainanese households on the first month of newborns, birthdays and other festive occasions. I had my first yi buah a year ago, but the skin was rather thick and not as soft as the more popular ang ku kueh. I decided to try making it at home to see how it compares and I must say that having a freshly-made homemade kueh tastes worlds apart from a shopbought one. What makes this kueh special from other kuehs in Singapore is the use of ginger, toasted sesame and peanuts in the filling. Some kueh makers even use dried mandarin and candied winter melon in the filling! What I really was aiming for was a thin skin – the mark of a good yi buah. Skin so thin that you can see the brown filling peeking through the translucent skin upon steaming. Very happy with my result! It was a rainy day today and having a warm yi buah straight from the steamer and enjoying its warm spicy filling within was such a treat!

Yi Bua

For the dough:

10g rice flour

100g + 150g water

1 + 1 tablespoons oil

250g glutinous rice flour

1. Place the rice flour, 100g water and 1 tablespoon oil in a pot and cook until it thickens.

2. Mix with the glutinous rice flour while it is hot.

3. Add 150g water gradually until a smooth dough forms.

4. Knead in the last tablespoon of oil.

5. Allow to rest covered while you prepare the filling.

For the filling:

125g gula melaka

150g water

3 pandan leaves

2 tablespoons grated ginger (with its juice)

¼ teaspoon salt

200g grated coconut

40g sesame seeds, toasted

50g peanuts, toasted, coarsely ground

1. Combine the gula melaka with water and pandan leaves in a wok.

2. Heat gently until the gula melaka melts and the pandan leaves have infused their flavour into the water. Remove the pandan leaves.

3. Add the grated ginger, salt and coconut. Cook until all excess liquid has evaporated.

4. Add the sesame seeds and peanuts and fry for another minute.

For assembly:

16 small strips of pandan

16 banana leaf strips (2”x8”), blanched, wiped and greased lightly

Red food colouring (or beetroot juice mixed with oil and a little flour)

1. To assemble the yi buah, divide the dough into 40g balls and fill each with a generous amount of filling. Seal and place pretty/ smooth side down on a work surface. 

2. Top the yi buah with a strip of pandan.

3. Wrap the banana strip around the yi buah and push down the excess leaves on the top to cover the dough. Turn the yi buah the right side up and place on a plate.

4. Steam on medium low heat for 10 minutes. 5. Dip the end of a chopstick in the red food colouring and dot each yi buah



Pamelia Chia is a Singaporean chef and the author of the bestselling cookbook ‘Wet Market to Table’. After graduating with an Honor’s degree in Food Science and Technology from the National University of Singapore in 2014, she decided to trade a food scientist’s lab coat in for chef whites. She has since been working in restaurants in Singapore and Melbourne, including Candlenut and Carlton Wine Room. Her deepest interest being the preservation and celebration of Singaporean food heritage and culture, she started Singapore Noodles in 2020 as a platform to share about Singaporean food to a global audience. Find her on Instagram @pameliachia.

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