Dining Out 2 minutes 24 May 2019

On The Michelin-Recommended List: Haig Road Putu Piring

Fourth-generation owner Aisha Hashim talks about the need to keep up with the times.

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Aisha Hashim grew up in a kitchen surrounded by the warm smells of steamed rice flour and gula melaka. Putu piring — steamed rice cakes with palm sugar — has been her family’s business for years, from when her great-grandmother used to peddle the sweet snack on the streets in the East area in 1985.
Return to roots

She might have grown up helping her mum to make putu piring, but Aisha never thought she would be taking over her family’s business. Straight after secondary school, she enrolled in Shatec where she got a diploma in pastry, and went on to work at the Hilton Singapore for a year. Aisha then continued her studies in the US, before joining Boston Harbor Hotel, Massachusetts, as their assistant pastry chef.

It was one phone call from her mother that saw her returning to Singapore to help. “When my mum called, she told me that they needed help. Her shop was closing at that time; the coffee shop they had a stall in was closing down to turn into a retail shop,” says Aisha. “She needed my help to find a new space and hire more workers.” 

A new generation

Today, Haig Road Putu Piring has six outlets spread across various coffeeshops and shopping malls. Says Aisha: “We had a lot of requests from customers saying the queues are very long, especially if they have travelled from the West (of Singapore) to the East.”

Expanding wasn’t a decision that was executed easily though. Both Aisha’s parents were resistant to this change, and had to be convinced by their daughter and son-in-law that this would be better for the business in the long run.

“Me and my husband had to talk to my parents about this expansion because they refused actually,” says Aisha. “One of the greatest challenges we face is manpower. A lot of the younger generation want to work in an air-conditioned space, not sweat it out,” she continues. “Hopefully this (the plan to expand into shopping malls) will encourage more of them to come and work with us.”

Haig Road Putu Piring, catering for an event.
Haig Road Putu Piring, catering for an event.

Innovating for the future

While Aisha looks to expand the business model, what remains unchanged is the recipe and how the putu piring is made. Here, traditional techniques are still practiced, such as marinating the rice flour overnight, steaming and sieving it countless times, and adding salt water to the mix so it won’t be tasteless. Even the gula melaka used here is imported from Java, pure with a hint of smoky, savoury flavours.

“A good putu pairing uses quality ingredients. Our rice flour is also top grade, so it’s very soft and silky. Even for the gula melaka, we tried the refined ones before but the smell and taste is just different. It doesn’t go with our flour,” says Aisha.

She shares that the mark of a good putu piring is one where the flour doesn’t coat your tongue. Aisha also plans to try tweaking the fillings in the putu piring.

Last December, Haig Road Putu Piring ventured into the shopping malls with an outlet in East Village mall in Upper Changi Road. It also opened another mall outlet in Northpoint City in Yishun earlier this year. Aisha is also pushing the boundaries of putu piring by introducing new-fangled flavours for the steamed rice cakes. On top of the original gula melaka-filled putu piring, other flavours include durian, coconut and chocolate.

Aisha says: "Our intention is to introduce new flavours is to pull out attract the younger generation. Not everyone know what putu piring is. When I do live stations in schools, Malays say this is putu piring, the Chinese say no, this is tutu kueh, then the Indian will say this is putu mayam. I really hope that putu piring can be an icon of Singapore food. "

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