Kuih pai tee is a pastry that is especially beloved in the Malaysian states of Penang and Melaka, and the city-state of Singapore. All three areas are hubs of the Peranakan Nyonya culture, which began as a hybrid of foreign and local cultures along the Malay archipelago in the 15th century when traders intermarried with locals.
The treat is made out of a thin and crispy pastry tart shell that’s often filled with a mixture of vegetables, prawns, shredded Chinese turnips, carrots, and a blend of spices. In Melaka, pai tee is known as “top hat,” likely because of its resemblance to an upside-down hat. Depending on where you visit, the pastry may look slightly different; in Melaka, for example, the edges fan outward (like a hat’s brim), whereas the Singaporean version looks more like a cup.
The origins of the snack are slightly murky. Some suggest that pai tee might be the Peranakan version of a British pastry and that its name is derived from the term “patty.” Others attribute its true origins to Singapore, around the time of the Japanese occupation. Whether its inventor hails from Melaka, Singapore, or beyond, the next time you enjoy pai tee, be sure to tip your imaginary top hat to whoever thought it up. It’s a delicious snack to tide you over till your next meal.