SINGAPORE – There is an image from my early childhood in the 1960s seared into my memory, in which the matriarchs of my Indian-Peranakan family – or Chetti Melaka, as we are known in Malaysia and Singapore – sit down, after a fraught morning holed up in the kitchen, for "cuci mulut" (palate-cleansing in Malay) after lunch.

These septuagenarians knew how to box clever with their daily chores so that they could filch some precious moments to ruminate over homemade kueh.

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