Saturday, August 07, 2010

Tasting a Ball of Heritage

Heritage is defined by the good ol' Wikipedia as "something which is inherited from one's ancestors". Seeing that Singapore is a relatively young nation built by migrant workers from different places, our heritage, though short, should be rather unique and rich.

Unfortunately it seems that most Singaporeans do not give a hum chin peng about our own heritage. Who were our forefathers? Where did they come from? Why did they come? How was life like for them (certainly no MRT, no air-con and no ultra-clean water)?

Maybe the way to Singaporeans' heart for heritage is through their stomach. What did our forefathers eat? Were there rojak, chicken rice and roti john? Did they eat foods from different ethnic groups outside of their own?

Now we're talking heritage. Food heritage!

And so it was with great curiosity and pleasure that I experienced the Putu Bola. Putu what? PUTU BOLA. Yes, from the same Putu lineage as Putu Mayam and Putu Piring. Lol.

Flour is first steamed then mixed with fresh desiccated coconut before being pressed and shaped into a ball. The putu bolas are then steamed for 10 minutes.

While they are steaming, let's look at how Putu Mayam is made. Before this, I had ignorantly thought it was made of bee hoon.

The same flour mixture is pressed through a hand press to get thin strands of the dough.

It is then steamed and eaten with red/brown sugar and desiccated coconut.

Ok, now back to the Putu Bola. When eaten with sugar and desiccated coconut, its taste is actually very familiar...not unlike Tutu Kueh. But its round shape gives it more weight and substance. The texture is not spongy, but rather semi-kueh-like with a slight crumbly feel. Sweet and with a coconut fragrance, this should be a crowd-pleaser especially with the kids!

For those with a sweet tooth or a very sweet tooth, the many other Indian sweets would delight.

Ananda Bhavan also served up this very fruity and creamy lassi with a nice hint of Angelina Jolie salt.

As a treat, we had this expert lady kopi-tarik-er who pulled a mean cup of coffee with steady hands.

This is how it should be done.

This is how the current generation does it. Worrying, isn't it? Haha. Like cheap sparkling wines with carbon dioxide pumped into them, the bubbles here are large and coarse.

I pulled my own cuppa without the expert lady's height nor her grace. The coffee was very smooth, creamy and surprisingly not too sweet. And like Champagne, which is fermented in the bottle, the bubbles are small and refined.

We were hosted by Mr Nadarajan (right in above photo), the Managing Partner of Ananda Bhavan Restaurant. Standing alongside him is his Chinese employee (left in above photo) who has embraced Hinduism and is almost an icon associated with the restaurant! Mr Nadarajan regaled us with anecdotes of life in Singapore during "those good old days" and about Putu Bola. According to him, Putu Bola was made and sold by the Putu Mayam sellers who used residual flour from making Putu Mayam to make Putu Bola. As times were tougher and our people not so well off, many ate Putu Bola as it was cheap and filling.

Nowadays, kids would fork out $6 or $7 for a fast-food meal and not even bat an eyelid. Nothing wrong, kids. Just different kids growing up in different times.

As I bit into the Putu Bola on my plate, I felt its humble warmth and the sweet comfort that it offered to the many generations before our time.

In the words of Mr Nadarajan: "Indians believe in reincarnation. While some may hope to be reincarnated in the USA, I hope I will be reincarnated here in Singapore." And with his gesture of bringing back a lost sweet heritage for the current generation to experience, I can't help but swell with national pride.

Majulah Singapura.

Thanks to Anu of Fulford PR for the invitation and to Mr Nadarajan for sharing a slice of our heritage with us.

Putu Bola Recipe
*Courtesy of Ananda Bhavan Restaurant*


* Rice flour, 500 grams
* Desiccated coconut, 450 grams
* Salt, 2 grams
* Red Sugar and desiccated coconut, to serve


1. Add 100 grams of water to 500 grams of rice flour
2. Loosely knead the mixture
3. Sieve the mixture and steam it for 10 minutes at 100°C
4. Add the fresh dessicated coconut to the steamed flour and shape into balls of about 80 grams each.
5. Steam the mixture again for another 10 minutes at 100°C
6. Serve the Putu Bola with red sugar and dessicated coconut

Ananda Bhavan Restaurant
95 Syed Alwi Road (other branches)
Tel: 6398 0837
Opens: 24 hours daily!

Chew On This: Now you can have a taste of this lost heritage food! For two days only (8-9 August) the Putu Bola ($1.20) is available at all Ananda Bhavan Restaurants. Happy National Day, Singapore!


Cuisine Paradise said...

Wow... so many yummy indian snacks and heritage memories which I have missed out... and they really served my favour Indian snack "Putu Mayam"!!!!! I shld have join you the other day :p

The Hungry Cow said...

Cuisine Paradise: Ya man! The putu bola was yums and I was glad to be able to learn and taste a lost heritage soggy prawn mee eh? ;P