[dropcap size=small]M[/dropcap]ost people would consider bak kwa or Nonya kueh a typical Singaporean snack. Andy Tan, 52, however, has big dreams for muah chee – little balls of glutinous rice dough typically coated with sesame seeds and finely chopped peanuts. He hopes that it will become one of the nation’s iconic snacks one day.

Tan set up Heavenly Snacks at Circuit Road Food Centre in 2015. His goal is to create the perfect muah chee: soft yet with bite, doesn’t stick to teeth, and not too sweet. By his own reckoning, he is almost there. His next step is to find a peanut supplier that can offer a more fragrant alternative. After that, he intends to expand his range of flavours. Currently, he also offers black sesame and pandan coconut versions.

“Eventually, I plan to pick the eight best flavours, seek investor funding and export my muah chee to the world as an authentic Singaporean snack,” he shares.

To maintain the quality and consistency of his muah chee, Tan personally prepares everything a la minute.

Tan’s tale of how he embarked on this quest is remarkable. Previously a businessman in the car accessories and spare parts industry, he found himself on the brink of bankruptcy twice. When his business failed the second time, it also cost him his marriage. He started to wonder if he was doing the wrong business.

“I always swore never to be in the F&B business. I did not like the idea of standing all day. I used to say that the money earned would never be able to repair the ‘damage’ to the legs.”

He ate his words after he tried some muah chee from a night bazaar in Pasir Ris in 2014. “I realised it was completely different from what I used to eat in my youth,” he recalls. “It inspired me to want to give it a new lease of life – a muah chee of the next generation, if you like.”

Armed with a loan from good friend David Chong, who owns the Cheng Mun Kee Pig’s Organ Soup stall two doors down from Heavenly Snacks, he spent four months experimenting on the recipe, before starting operations. Among his improvements to the process is using a six-blade blender to mix the glutinous rice fl our. Each portion of dough weighing 100g is steamed in a tin can.

Upon taking an order, he will remove the steamed dough, slice it evenly into 30 pieces, and mix them with peanuts and sesame seeds. Because it is so labour-intensive, he limits every buyer to two boxes.

Today, the queues are endless and the 220 portions are sold out before the stall’s operating hours are over. “People do not believe my muah chee is from Singapore. I’ve been asked if I use a Japanese or Taiwanese recipe. But I tell them this is my own.”

He has become much more philosophical in his business approach. “It is no longer about making money. Finding peace is more important,” says Tan, who aims to be a champion of the muah chee snacking culture.