Bika Ambon is a very popular “kue” from Indonesia, the name seeming to suggest its origins from Kota Ambon in Maluku, or better known as the Maloccas Islands in the past. However, its popularity stems not from Ambon but in Medan, several thousand miles away in Northern Sumatra, where very good kek lapis can also be found incidentally. It was postulated by some that the confection was brought by Ambonese traders to Medan where it became viral, so much so that there is now a whole stretch along a street in the heart of the city, Jalan Mojopahit with no less than 30 stores dedicated to the sale of Bika Ambon amongst other popular delectables. Others explained that the name of the kue takes after a local bakery located at an intersection of Jalan Ambon and Jalan Sei Kera, located about two miles away from Jalan Mojopahit, where the first Bika Ambon was supposed to have been made, sold and popularised. We are not food historians so we ain’t gonna dwell too much over its beginnings, since it doesn’t add much to its flavours anyway, but what we do know is that despite its origins in Indonesia, its popularity has since overwhelmed its borders and traveled all over the world. It is known in Malaysia as Bingka Ambon or Kueh Ambon while some folks in the Peranakan community resonate to the name “Kueh Bengkah Sarang”. Whichever way it is being called, Binka Ambon by any other name would taste as good, just as a rose would smell as sweet. (more…)
Apom Berkuah is one of my favorite kuehs and I try to make it whenever time avails. Despite being a Peranakan signature “cuchi mulot“, I believe that it has its roots in Indonesian cuisine where it is known by another name Kue Serabi, and variations likening surabi or srabi. Even amongst Peranakan communities in Singapore, Malacca and Penang, the pronunciation also differ slightly from Apom Berkuah, to Apom Bokwa and Apom Bengkua. To the Malays from Kedah, Malacca and Sabah, it is called “Kuih Serabai“，with a slightly phonological shift in the terminal syllable, where it transits to become a diphthong in place of the short monophthongal vowel, a linguistic nuance we commonly observe across many Bahasa Melayu to Baba Patois lexicographical pairs. The word “Apom” which was derived from “appam“, a south Indian pancake popular in Kerala and Tamilnadu, is sometimes spelt as “apong” instead. Despite the numerous names, one thing remains the same for this kueh, and that is how delicious they are! So let’s see how we make them!
I love watching cooking shows on TV when I was young. Apart from learning through observing my grandmother, mother and aunties cook and helping them in the kitchen, part of what I know on traditional cooking came from these wonderfully made TV programmes, especially those on Channel 12 which later became Art Central. That was way before the time of reality cooking shows like Masterchef where drama seems to take centrestage instead of the food. And it was easily 10-15 years ago as even Arts Central has now become part of history to make way for “Okto”. That was when my TV watching days were over.
Almost 10 years ago, there was a series of TV programmes featuring Peranakan culture and cuisine. Most memorable were “The Ways of the Matriarch”, “The Cook, His Food and the Dishy Nyonyas” as well as “On the Trail of the Phoenix”. It is the last after which the Peranakan dishes presented in this blog were named as It was through these TV programmes that I’d learnt much about the intricacies of Straits Chinese cuisine and its preparation. One of the most impressionable dishes being showcased was Apom Berkuah, I remembered vividly the contrasting swirls of blue from juice extracted from bunga telang against the ivory colored fluffy rice cakes. After all these years, I’d finally gotten a chance to make them myself. Truly sedap!
Just when the gastronomic landscape in Singapore constantly evolves and changes to keep up with the trendiest and most current around the world, some places choose to remain exactly as they were when they first started. A blast from the past quite literally, these establishments served as old guards of Singapore’s rich culinary heritage, firm reminders to what would probably have been quickly forgotten, if not for them. On a slightly less serious note, they breathe an air of nostalgia and reminiscence, food that bring us right back to our childhoods, prepared by our mothers and grandmothers in an utmost unceremonious manner yet so unpretentious and unassuming. Just as the world goes gaga over cronuts and whatnots, I crave for a good Pang Susie and know exactly the place to find a good one. Mary’s Kafe must surely be the place to go!