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!
上海生煎包 Shanghai Sheng Jian Bao Shanghainese Pan Fried Steamed Buns is a local snack that originated from Shanghai in the 1920s. The novel way of pan frying the mildly proofed buns before steaming them directly in the same flat pan over a stove became extremely popular as a street food and remains so in Shanghai today, alongside 小笼汤包 Xiao Long Steamed Dumplings and other delectables in Shanghainese cuisine also known as 沪菜 or 本帮菜. Cuisines from other places in China like the neighbouring Zhejiang (浙菜), stretching northwards to Shandong (鲁菜), or southwards to Guangdong and Hong Kong （粤菜） also have very similar versions, where these buns may also also known as 水煎包 Shui Jian Bao. The culture of eating these Pan Fried Steamed Buns spread to Taiwan during the mass exodus of Chiang Kai Shek’s KMT army from China to the island state in the late 1940s. A large portion of Chiang’s troops are from the Yangtze region, especially those from his hometown, 奉化 Fenghua in the Zhejiang Province 浙江省. These soldiers, together with those from Shandong, Szechuan and even Yunnan, forms up a large part of Taiwan’s migration population in the last century to become what the locals grew to call 外省人 Wai Sheng Ren. The influx of these soldiers and their families from Mainland China greatly diversified the social habits and culinary cultures in Taiwan. Many of these dishes brought along and introduced by these migrants became so deeply rooted, that they are now enjoyed by the tourists, as well as the Taiwanese, be it the locals 本省人 Ben Sheng Ren, or the 外省人 alike. 上海生煎包/水煎包 is one of those popular snacks.
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!
When it comes to breads, I’d always have a bias for crusty breads to the spongy soft ones. Not that I don’t like the latter of course. Just that to me, the hearty and somewhat earthy qualities, together with the robust textures of a rustic bread have some kinda appeal which soft loaves lack. Its like an entirely different animal together. And of course, the major plus point for a soup and stew lover like me, is how well these breads go with the liquids, lapping up the flavours with ease and soaking in all the goodness with great relish!
Focaccia is one of those rustic breads which has so much character on its own, exuding the heady perfumes of rosemary and garlic infused olive oil. And what more, its a simple and fuss-free bread to make. And here’s a very forgiving recipe for all who are interested to try!
Melonpan メロンパン has got to be one of the most intriguing confections in the world, with no connection to melons at all! And this popular Japanese children’s song summarises it rather well, I think. “Anpan with anko, karepan (curry buns) with kare but no melons in melonpan.” 残念! It probably counts as one of the quirkiest mysteries of culinary history.
Well, the crispy pâte sablée layer on top of the bun, if one extrapolates his imagination far enough, does bear a certain remote resemblance to the web-like motifs on the highly priced Japanese cultivated musk melons. Well, no offense but I think the Hongkongers fare better in naming a similarly crafted bread as “polo bun” 菠萝包, after the pineapple. Resembling melons or not, the aroma of freshly baked melonpans is certainly one of my most vivid memories of our trip to Tokyo 2 years back.