[Penang, Malaysia] Nyonya Kuih from Moh Teng Pheow

Kuih is a collective term which we in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia give to bite-sized sweetmeats which are usually served as snacks or desserts. In Thailand, they called it khanom and, in fact, many of the steamed desserts here in Singapore or Malaysia very likely were introduced to us by the Siamese who, in turn, also learnt much of their present-day desserts from a Portuguese-Eurasian lady, Maria Guyomar de Pina who lived in 17th-century Ayutthaya and headed the kitchens of the Siamese royal court at one time.

In Singapore & Malaysia, the colourful kuihs made by the Baba-Nyonya (Straits -born Chinese) community are traditionally particularly desired for their richness and finesse, compared to those by the other main communities (Chinese, Malay and Indians). It is said that the best Nyonya kuihs can be found in the former British Straits Settlements of Penang, Singapore and Malacca.

One of Penangโ€™s most established Nyonya kuih-makers is Moh Teng Pheow, which was set-up in 1933 by Mr Moh Teng Pheow, whoโ€™d started learning to make kuihs at the age of 10 when he came to Penang from Hainan Island, Southern China.

Today, the bakery is run by Mr Mok Hian Beng, the son of Mr Moh Teng Pheow. 65-year-old Mr Mok Hian Beng himself learnt kuih-making since the age of 15. He makes 8 types of Nyonya kuihs today, compared to 15 types made by his father.

Mr Mok Hian Beng is married to Mdm Teoh Kheng Sim, who came from another one of the Penangโ€™s foremost Nyonya kuih-making families - Mdm Teohโ€™s grandmother, ๐Š๐š๐ฆ ๐†๐ž๐จ๐ค ๐‚๐ก๐ข๐ง, was the kuih-maker, and cousin of the legendary โ€œTua Bakโ€, who ran the business with an astute eye - her nickname was because โ€œshe sees everythingโ€, not because her eyes were large. Tua Bakโ€™s Nyonya kuihs were the most sought-after for weddings, birthdays and celebratory โ€œtโ€™ng tokโ€ (long table) dinner parties in George Town back in the 1960s. Tua Bak was a large-sized woman who was often seen ferried around in a trishaw, as she went for her โ€œcekiโ€ (Nyonya card-game) sessions, back in the old days.

Moh Teng Pheowโ€™s kitchen gets busy pretty early on.

Mr Mok is assisted by a father-and-son team of Karaelim Karupiah, 64, and his son, Vijay Karaelim, 36. Mr Karaelim Karupiah has been working with the family for more than half a century. His son is seen here making kuih lapis, which has 9 alternative white-and-pink layers, hence its Hokkien name โ€œkau teng kuehโ€ (meaning 9-layer cake) - 4 white layers, 4 pink layers, and a bright red top layer. The Thais have a similar kuih (the Thai word for โ€œkuihโ€ is โ€œkhanomโ€) called โ€œkhanom chanโ€ which also consisted of 9 layers.

The finished product can be seen in the top-right corner of this platter of Nyonya kuihs:

Moh Teng Pheow also serves some savoury dishes in the little, rustic-looking cafe attached to its kitchen. Among these are the popular Penang asam laksa, a spicy-sour, soupy noodle dish, and the kuih pai tee, crisp pastry cups filled with shredded jicama. Both very tasty:

The selection of Nyonya kuihs which we had:

The renditions here are some of the best in Malaysia, let alone Penang. Of course, it offers a subset of available Nyonya kuihs:

Moh Teng Pheow
Jalan Masjid, off Chulia Street, 10200 George Town, Penang
Tel: + 604-261 5832
Operating hours: 10.30am-5pm daily, except Monday (closed).


Thanks for the information on Kuih.

In case anybody wants to read the words on the chart. Iโ€™ve found them in bigger version here.
(Illustrator: Lee Xin Li)


Moh Teng Pheow is covered by the Penang Arts Councilโ€™s new 10X10 program, currently in production, which will feature 10 heritage eateries on the island.


Day 541 since Malaysia started its Movement Control Order (MCO) back in 18 March 2020.

Lunch today were take-out Penang-Nyonya kuihs and savouries from ๐Œ๐จ๐ก ๐“๐ž๐ง๐  ๐๐ก๐ž๐จ๐ฐ. Founded in 1933 by Hainanese รฉmigrรฉ and skilled kuih-maker, ๐Œ๐จ๐ก ๐“๐ž๐ง๐  ๐๐ก๐ž๐จ๐ฐ, itโ€™s currently run by his grandson, ๐‚๐š๐ฏ๐ข๐ง ๐Œ๐จ๐จ๐ค, whoโ€™d taken over from his father, ๐Œ๐จ๐ค ๐‡๐ข๐š๐ง ๐๐ž๐ง๐ , who just passed away in April 2021.

What we ordered today:

  1. Roti jala, nasi kunyit & Nyonya chicken curry - the roti jala (lacy pancakes) were not the prettiest weโ€™d come across, but itโ€™s very eggy, coconut milk-rich & totally delicious. The nasi kunyit was faultless in both taste and texture, but the portion was rather small for the price charged.
    The accompanying Nyonya chicken curry was piquant, packed full of flavors, but a wee bit spicier than Iโ€™d have liked - but thatโ€™s just me, Iโ€™m no chili head.

  1. Penang-Nyonya nasi ulam - this rice salad, packed with finely-chopped herbs, desiccated coconut, onions, and pounded dried shrimps, is one of the best in town. Definitely a must-order when one comes to Moh Teng Pheow.

  1. Penang-Nyonya nasi lemak - a very well-turned out version, with plump, tamarind-flavored prawns and flavorsome tamarind-flavored mackerel, with fresh cucumber and spicy sambal belacan/chili-fermented shrimp paste.

  1. Kueh pie tee - delicate pastry cups filled with shredded jicama, shrimps & tofu.

  2. Selection of Nyonya kuih - the Nyonya kuih here are, IMO, one of the top 2 in Penang (the other one being Kheng Nyonya Kuih in Batu Lanchang Market Food Centre), and its selection of traditional sweetmeats relied on the freshest ingredients: coconut milk, freshly-grated coconut shreds, pandan leaves, cassava, and good quality palm sugar (Gula Melaka), rice flour, glutinous rice flour, etc.