Battle of the Fragrant Biscuits

Heong Peah, Heong Peng, Pong Peah, Biskut Wangi – whatever way you call it, it means fragrant biscuit and it refers to the flaky local biscuit that’s filled with a sticky, chewy filling of maltose, onions and sesame seeds.

In Ipoh, famous for its heong peah, there are plenty of brands and it’s not always clear which is the best tasting. So when I was there, I took the opportunity to pick up a few brands of heong peah.

While you may be able to find these biscuits around Malaysia and in Singapore, it’s best to purchase them at/near the source, where freshness really makes a difference and you begin to really appreciate why they’re called heong peah.

Sin Joo Heong’s heong peah is quite easily found in Singapore. The pink packets bear a tiger head logo. But be careful, there are others that also have a similar looking tiger head, but they are of a different brand.

Sin Joo Heong's loud packet of Heong Peah.

Sin Joo Heong's loud packet of Heong Peah.

Yee Thye has a few shops in Ipoh town, clearly catering to tourists. They offer their heong peah in two different packets. One, is the gold packet, that contains individually foil wrapped biscuits and is nearly RM3 more expensive than the economy pack, a red coloured plastic bag.

Yee Thye's individually packed biscuits also comes in an economy pack that is cheaper and looks nothing like this.

Yee Thye's individually packed biscuits also comes in an economy pack that is cheaper and looks nothing like this.

The stores of Yee Thye also sell Seng Kee’s version of the biscuit. Seng Kee, a heong piah manufacturer from Gunung Rapat, on the outskirts of Ipoh, says, on the side of the packet that the biscuit is “coconut-shell broil(ed)”, the traditional way.

Heong Peah from Seng Kee Food Trading (left) and Sin Eng Heong.

Heong Peah from Seng Kee Food Trading (left) and Sin Eng Heong.

I chanced upon the shop at Sin Eng Heong in Ipoh town, as I was hunting for pomeloes.

The set up here is as simple and plain as the packets they use to pack their heong peah. In fact, it doesn’t even bear the shop’s name. I guess they don’t need any advertising. As I was browsing their compact shop full of local biscuits and cakes, a line formed for the heong peah.

Their bakers were bringing out other kinds of freshly baked biscuits from the back, so I couldn’t tell if they actually make their heong peah in the back of the store, or somewhere else. And they were so busy, I was scared to get scolded if I asked unnecessary questions.

So, with a huge mug of water, I got down to business.

Battle of the four: Sin Eng Heong (top left), Sin Joo Heong (top right), Seng Kee (bottom left), Yee Thye (botom right).

Battle of the four: Sin Eng Heong (top left), Sin Joo Heong (top right), Seng Kee (bottom left), Yee Thye (botom right).

On Looks Alone

Out of the packets, you’ll find that Sin Joo Heong and Sin Eng Heong have glazed their biscuits. Yee Thye and Seng Kee leave their heong peahs unfinished.

Sin Joo Heong’s biscuit is more oval than round. The glaze is also more uneven than Sin Eng Heong’s.

On the cross section, Seng Kee’s is flat on one side. Many biscuits were damaged in the simple plastic packing.

The more beautifully constructed biscuits are those from Sin Eng Heong and Yee Thye. They both have a nice dome shape and are evenly done.

However, Sin Eng Heong beats all of them. Generously endowed with sesame seeds, a nice tanΒ  because of even glazing and baking and its well shaped tight curves make it the sexiest looking biscuit on the plate. However, if you like the rough, raw homemade look, Seng Kee has it.

Top to bottom: cross section of biscuits from Sin Joo Heng, Yee Thye, Seng Kee, Sin Eng Heong.

Top to bottom: cross section of biscuits from Sin Joo Heng, Yee Thye, Seng Kee, Sin Eng Heong.

The Bite

Yee Thye’s biscuit has a nice crumble to it, but isn’t crunchy. I detected an odd flavour in the crust, that at first reminded me of old coconut oil, then later of eggs. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I didn’t like it. However, the sample from the economy pack didn’t have this.

The ratio of filling to crust was too low, the filling is barely sweet, which tipped the overall taste to slightly salty. The texture was more spongy than chewy. Overall, Yee Thye’s biscuit was unimpressive.

Seng Kee’s biscuit is the crunchiest and flakiest of the lot. Even as you pick it up, the layers of crust peel away. (If you look at the last photo in this post, you can see all the layers of crust around Seng Kee’s biscuit on the plate.) The initial bite is quite interesting. The outside is almost hard. As you crunch through it, the crusty outside gives way to a more soft, flaky inner crust.

The filling is super sweet and really sticks to the teeth. Although I felt there could be more filling, because it’s so sweet, you could still distinguish filling from crust. Despite the initial bitter taste of the crust, it still tends toward being too sweet.

When I bit into the burnt crust, the scent and flavour hit me with a wave of familiarity. I believe this is the same biscuit I tasted when I was young. If it’s the same biscuit, then it was my favourite once before. However, the filling in that biscuit, oozed more than this one.

Seng Kee's heong peah after being freshened up.

Seng Kee's heong peah after being freshened up.

I decided to follow the instructions on the back of Seng Kee’s packet that says to freshen up the biscuits, microwave them for 15-20 seconds and wait 2 minutes before consuming it. I did exactly as instructed and yes, indeed, the filling was now was soft – too soft – and flowed out of the biscuit.

However, as I suspected. microwaving this rendered the crust too soft as well – the effect of the buildup of steam within the biscuit.

If you wish to subject your heong peah to the microwave treatment, please do so with a word of warning. The filling will be really hot. So hot, it will burn your tongue.Β  I sit here now, typing this in pain.

Although I have not tried this out yet, I would suggest reducing the microwave time to 5 seconds. And follow this in a pre-heated toaster for half a minute or so. I believe this will soften the filling just slightly without it getting too runny and producing too much steam within the biscuit, while returning it to the toaster will make the crust more crispy. Also, you should also be able to eat it when the crust has cooled.

Anyway, the microwave experiment did prove that this is indeed the biscuit that was my childhood favourite. Unfortunately, it isn’t my favourite today. Indeed, I found the filling lacking in complexity. While it had a really nice slightly burnt sugar taste, that was all it was – sugar sweet.

So how does the beauty queen of all the heong peahs on the plate, Sin Eng Heong, stand up to the rest? To be brutally brief, she was a let down.

While the sesame seeds did contribute a good flavour to it, and the crust was more moist than the others, the beautiful glazing, that turned out to be sweet, distracted from the taste of the filling. Overall, it was sweeter than Yee Thye’s but not as sweet as Seng Kee’s. And it had that odd coconut note I detected in Yee Thye’s sample.

The aftermath of the battle.

The aftermath of the battle.

I have left the most familiar for the last.

Because Sin Joo Heong is so commonly available, I have to admit I biased against it. How can something so widely available be more than above average? However, it turns out that the ugly duckling from Sin Joo Heong actually tastes the best.

The filling has a really nice caramelized onion flavour, that is lacking in all the others. It strikes a nice balance between too sweet (Seng Kee) and too bland (Yee Thye). The crust does not overwhelm the filling like Yee Thye’s. With an ample amount of sesame seeds, this heong peah from Sin Joo Heong is the most balanced of all the biscuits.

You will find the crust does not collapse completely when you bite into it, leaving a nice hollow, so you can enjoy looking inside to find the part of the biscuit with the most yummy filling.

Best: Sin Joo Heng
Blah-est: Yee Thye
Sweetest: Seng Kee
Prettiest: Sin Eng Heong
Crustiest: A tie. Seng Kee and Sin Joo Heng

This entry was posted in How to Eat and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

17 Comments

  1. queennyteh
    Posted May 29, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Actually i have tried some hiong piah before and i fell Yee Hup Hiong Piah is quite delicious. It is crispy, the filling is tasty. You can try it . I really highly recommend it ( YEE HUP HIONG PIAH) to you. Thanks a lot.

  2. Posted May 30, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    @queennyteh

    Thank you for your recommendation.

    I did not see Yee Hup Heong Peah when I was travelling and did not manage to sample it.

    I shall look out for it the next time I’m up in Perak.

  3. Puffin
    Posted June 10, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    You said Sin Joo Heong’s Heong Piah is quite easily found in Singapore. May I know where please? Tx.

  4. Posted June 12, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I saw it at Cold Storage. The one in Takashimaya. Don’t forget to check the expiration date.

  5. Esther
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Hello.

    I’m attracted to the way you describe Hiong Piah. For your information, there are three types of Hiong Piah:
    (a) Hiong Piah – Maltose filling (Original)
    (b) Hiong Piah – Brown Sugar filling
    (c) Hiong Piah – Oats; no filling

    So, for those who don’t like it too sweet, you can try Hiong Piah with Brown Sugar filling, which is less sweet compared to the ones filled with maltose. Besides, you can also try Hiong Piah – Oats, a healthier and more nutritional alternative.

    As for the method of using the microwave: Remember to wait two minutes before eating. This is because the biscuit is still soft and the filling is very hot from the intensity of heat. But, after two minutes, the biscuits will be crispier and taste more delicious than a cold one. So, patience is needed to eat a delicious hiong piah πŸ™‚

  6. Posted July 8, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your comments.

    I personally have never ever eaten heong peah filled with any other filling than that of maltose.

    Are there some brands of heong peah with brown sugar filling and oats filling that you can name, so I can look out for them?

  7. Esther
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Yes. The brand is Yee Hup.

    The Charbroil Recipe Hiong Piah Brown Sugar is packed in black color wrapper. While, Charbroil Recipe Hiong Piah Oat is packed in orange yellowish wrapper. Enjoy your research πŸ™‚

  8. Posted July 26, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    was browsing through net looking for heong peah and chanced upon your page. A really really good research that you had done, and agree with you that heong peah when in its freshness taste the best! really glad that you enjoy our biscuits πŸ™‚

  9. Posted August 21, 2010 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    Hi there, I read this with great interest.
    Good to know someone who really, really takes their food seriously.

    Many years ago, when I was still a toddler, I was introduced to Yee Hup’s brand (they were the BEST back then, no fight) and loved their coconut-shell-broiled biscuits.
    It’s nice to see how they make them in the compound of their house; sticking the dough onto the walls of the huge hollowed oven made from bricks (or clay?).

    Then commercialization took its toll, and Yee Hup’s brand gone overseas. The biscuits are not done the traditional way, but baked in ovens.
    So there goes the smoky, roasted flavour you and me so adore from the olden days.

    Seng Kee brought that memory back, with production in the self-constructed ovens, baked at home. Though I have to agree that the fillings can be a little too sweet for some.

    Thanks for this post. In case you’re wondering, there are at least TWO more brands around Gunung Rapat of Ipoh that bake their heong peng the same way like Seng Kee. But not as good.

  10. Posted November 27, 2010 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    I am eating some Sin Joo Heong biscuits right now! Which is a bit of a feat since they’re not easy to get in Austin, TX, USA. My father brought these back from Penang.

    My aunt gifted me with another brand, as well: Him Heang from Penang. They call the biscuit “Beh Teh Saw” as far as I can tell, but maybe that’s a slogan. They are individually wrapped and the company location is 162A Jalan Burma, phone 04-228-6129 / 04-228 6130.

    I like to give these biscuits to American friends and see if they can guess that the source of that rich, earthy flavor in the filling is onions! Love it.

    – dave

  11. Lia
    Posted December 3, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Where can I get nice hong peah in KL? I’ve searched around but still can’t find any. I’m a fan of these biscuits πŸ™‚

  12. Posted December 6, 2010 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Him Heang biscuits are excellent. And the equivalent there is indeed called Beh Teh Saw. However, it’s been a while since I tasted them, so I can’t compare the flavour to those that I acquired in Ipoh.

    Though when it comes to Him Heang, I think of them more for their dau sar peah – green pea biscuits shaped into bite-sized and therefore addictive mounds. I also like to get the less well-known hak tong peng filled with black and rather hard maltose.

  13. Lia
    Posted December 17, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    still searching of my fav biscuits : beh teh saw and pong peah in Kuala Lumpur. Anyone can help pls? So far only saw tiger head brand in petaling street, but still want to find other brands.

    Pls help.. thx you

  14. Andy
    Posted December 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Friend brought back Send Kee’s in pink package. Fragrance hit me as I cut open the pack. Beautiful ! Am eating now. Quite addictive . Can I find Seng Kee in Singapore?
    Andy – Singapore

  15. Posted December 9, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Seng Kee, as far as I know, isn’t available in Singapore.

  16. Yap Sue Chew
    Posted March 12, 2015 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    No need to get from Northern States, my favourite hiong peng is Bee Hiang brand from Ampang Selangor. Available at most Chinese medical shops in the Klang Valley. Many of my KL friends agree with me too.

  17. yau
    Posted March 6, 2016 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Hi. I’m after a biscuit similar to this but smaller – it looked like a bird’s head – it has a thick black sugary filling. the pastry was also very fine and peeled away, layer by layer in a fine crust. It was also called something similar heow pia. A company with a Bulldog logo sold it. Any idea whether its still being sold now?

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*
*