Peranakan desserts and snacks are such a large and colourful collection of delectables that they warrant special attention on their own. Being a unique group with members from such different backgrounds and rich heritage, the sweet and savory treats which signify the Peranakan community are exemplary of this wonderful diversity. Look closely, and one would be able to identify easily the cultural elements from the origins of forebears where the Peranakan roots developed from. Just to name a few, we have Kueh Koo Merah and Popiah from the Chinese, Rempah Udang, Pulot Inti with Malay-Indonesian influences, Pang Susi and Kueh Blanda with Portuguese-Dutch origins and of course Roti Babi from the proximal colonial links, and these are only a teeny tip of the iceberg of the repertoire affectionately known as “Kueh Chuchi Mulot” to the babas and nyonyas.
Many of these kuehs apart from tasting really good, are symbolic with their cultural significance tightly woven into the customs and practices of the Peranakan tapestry of life in the yesteryears. Some are prepared specially for specific occasions, like kueh bakol for the Chinese New Year, and were enshrouded with much mysticism through a relay of “patangs” (taboos) which had to be observed to strict accordance for guaranteed success in their making. Some like kueh koo itam were made almost exclusively for ancestral worship and serving them during other joyous or celebratory events would only invite “koosmangat!” from the nyonyas with their overtly animated and dramatised “terpranjat” look, not forgetting a string of gossips that would soon follow and before long the extended family or even the whole community would know who “kentot“. Many of these kuehs, like kueh koo, kueh sarlat (gading galoh), kueh lapis beras (kueh genggang) are “colour coded”, so it mattered to many Peranakans “what” to serve “when”, to “whom” and in “which colour”. Like many of the earlier mentioned kuehs with specific “functions”, apom balek is no exception.
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…)