What’s your favourite Chinese New Year (CNY) snack?
CNY goodies are one of the best parts of the festivities.
Love Letters are light, crispy and sweet. What’s there not to love?
As a child, you probably pretended that these cylindrical biscuits were swords or cigarettes and played with them.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why they are called Love Letters?
Let me enlighten you.
As it turns out, Love Letters are actually Kueh Kapit.
Meaning “pressed biscuit” in Malay, this CNY favourite is native to Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.
Notably, these biscuits are also consumed during Hari Raya.
Kueh kapit also goes by other names like Kueh Belanda or Dutch biscuit.
Interestingly, Kueh Kapit is one of the few visible remnants of the Dutch’s legacy in Malaysian or Singapore food.
Though Singapore was never a Dutch colony, the Dutch were major players in controlling trade in the Malay Archipelago back in the 17th century.
The pastry is thought to be inspired by traditional Dutch waffles.
However, some argue that it descended from the Spanish barquillo.
So, how did Kueh Kapit end up being nicknamed “Love Letters”?
The origin of Love Letters is quite romantic.
The recipe for Love Letters was adopted by Malays and Peranakans and localised with ingredients such as coconut milk and rice flour.
Back in the day, Peranakan girls were not allowed to meet boys their age without an accompanying chaperone.
Thus, these girls were inspired to put little notes into the cylindrical, hollow middle of Kueh Kapit and toss them over the wall in an attempt to communicate with the boy they were eyeing.
Apparently, the boy’s younger brother would retrieve these letters and inform the whole neighbourhood of this forbidden communication.
Despite the interference of younger siblings, this lore is really sweet.
Who are the Peranakans?
Peranakans are typically ethnic Chinese with Malay influence, though not all Peranakans have Chinese ancestry.
The term generally refers to people with mixed Chinese and Malay/Indonesian heritage.
Peranakan cuisine is known for using coconut milk, which explains the presence of the ingredient in Love Letters.
How are Love Letters Made?
Don’t be fooled by the seemingly simple design of Love Letters.
They’re tricky to make and require lots of skill.
To make these sweet treats, you need to pour a thin layer of batter on a special mold and bake them over charcoal.
It is then quickly taken off the heat and rolled into a cylinder.
Estimating how much batter to pour and the speed needed to give these snacks their iconic shape is a skill that requires nimble fingers and lots of practice.
I suppose that’s why many call Love Letters a labour of love.
Going to such extents to communicate with your lover is no easy feat.
Especially with the threat of being found out.
Thus, consuming Love letters is symbolic of taking your lover’s message to heart.
Now that you know the poetic origins of Love Letters, consider giving a jar to your lover this CNY.
Though I’m sure you’re allowed to communicate with your lover nowadays, it’s still a sweet gesture.
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