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Putu piring is a type of round, steamed rice cake with a centre of melted palm sugar. A Malay adaptation of an Indian dish, it is a popular local snack.
Made of ground rice flour, these cakes are shaped by conical moulds into circular mounds. A spoonful of gula Melaka (palm sugar) is placed in the centre and then the cake covered with a second layer of rice flour. A small cut of pandanus or banana leaf is pressed in before the ball of dough is turned upside down and left on a small cheesecloth covering a small plate for steaming. Each mould is covered with an individual conical lid and steamed for a few minutes. When cooked, the cakes are removed from their metal plate with the help of a small cut of banana leaf. They are topped with slightly salted grated coconut to add a savoury touch to the sweet cake. If the flour was sieved, the putu piring almost melts in the mouth. The lump of gula Melaka melts during the steaming process and oozes out at the first bite.
Putu piring can be eaten hot or cold. It is usually eaten at breakfast but is also served on festive occasions such as during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Putu piring has the same ingredients as putu mayam (Southern Indian string hoppers) and is served with the same toppings. Thus the dish is believed to be a Malay adaptation of the Indian snack. Piring is Malay for “plate”, probably a reference to the miniature plates on which the dish is cooked. Putu is the name of the basic steamed rice flour cakes found in Sri Lanka and Southern India. In fact, they are cooked in bamboo hollows, similar to putu bamboo, a variation of putu piring sans gula Melaka.
When sold by itinerant hawkers in pre-war Singapore, putu piring moulds were made of copper. Today they are made of aluminium. To ensure freshness, the hawkers would grate the gula Melaka and coconut only upon serving the cooked item rather than prepare the toppings beforehand.
The bamboo putu piring also known as putu buluh or putu bamboo or bambu gets its name from being shaped by hollow bamboo or cylindrical containers made of wood. The ingredients are the same as putu piring although the preparations and the final product are different. Rice flour is packed into a bamboo cylinder and gula Melaka and desiccated coconut added to it. The mixture is steamed and when ready, removed from the bamboo and wrapped in coconut leaves. In Indonesia it is known simply as putu and is still sold by itinerant vendors. Putu is steamed in a mobile steamer that is either carried on foot, by bicycle or on a horse-drawn cart. In fact, the original puttu or rice-cake found in Sri Lanka is cooked in a hollow bamboo layered with coconut.
Putu piring is often mistakenly referred to as kuih tutu. Kuih tutu has a peanut or coconut filling and is smaller than putu piring, which has only gula Melaka as filling. Also, while putu piring has Indian origins, kuih tutu is Chinese in origin.
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The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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.