Thursday, May 22, 2008

Apam Balik/Ban Chang Kuih

Ban Chang Kuih from

This morning I am feeling nostalgic for street food from kindly urban old men who spoke in welcoming gentle tones to get respectable old ladies who came from the villages to buy a few pieces of their breakfast cakes. They did not have to pull their customers' arms like in Petaling Street, KL. They would just sit there,fanning themselves with a small palm leaf fan in their rough cotton shirts and loose pants.

I cry out for the fragrant smell of old time soy bean milk. It was the type that was really thick, undiluted, unadulterated soy bean milk, rich with all the second class protein only a simple soy bean could produce. And I long for a whiff of the peanut-y , sugary and roasted aroma of a special Chinese peanut and soy bean spread sandwiched between two nice slices of thick ," dunlop pillow texture" of an one inch apam balik.

Ah, my vivid memories of forty years ago Sibu breakfast, either sitting on a low stool next to a low table,al fresco style, or a bundled breakfast spread brought back by a loving grandmother, just arrived from Sg. Maaw after travelling two hours by a slow motor launch from six in the morning when the eerie mist was still heavy on the Rejang River.

Do you still remember the man who had a small box stall along the alley behind Mr. Louis Wong's shop (Chop Yu Chiong, No 10 Island Road) at the end of Market Street, and just opposite the block was Hock Soon whose proprietor never had any other hair cut except a crew cut? The breakfast man operated in a space which was less than five by three. An almost impossible outlet but he was there for many years, throughout my childhood and even my early twenties. After I moved away from Sibu, I did not see him any more. He must have passed on but at a very old age.

This man had only one table beside his box stall and he sold soy bean milk, two types of cakes - apam balik, thick, full of nuts and sugar and nine layer cake, beautifully pink and white, fragrant, soft and in very accurate clear layers. He served his bean milk in the famous green floral Chinese ceramic cups. And he had no stove with him. If we went early, the soy bean milk would be hot,and of course freshly made. Later in the early afternoon the milk would be just luke warm. The box stall was made up of a glass box with a lid which opened from the top, for his cakes at the top. This moveable glass portion sat on top of the waist high wooden box, if I remember, which was green in colour. Inside the wooden box he kept his many bottles of soy been milk.

Each day he might be making only about twenty to thirty dollars but that seemed to be enough for him. It could have been his past time, it could have been his only livelihood. I often wondered about his welfare. In today's world, full of MBAs, this man might have created a franchise and spread to San Francisco or Melbourne. But alas, in those days, simple folks were only thinking of what they could earn in a day.

My grandmother liked his apam balik and she would always buy a dollar's worth which fetched six pieces in those days. For good measure my grandmother would also buy another dollar of the nine layer cake (six pieces also) and a bottle of soy bean . The bottle was recycled soy bean sauce bottle or beer bottle. The top was the cheap cork which one could buy by the dozens in those days for a few cents.

It was unbelieveable that a man could spend his whole life earning a little from just selling kuih and soy bean out of a box stall.

This box stall probably was kept in Mr. Louis Wong's shop when he went back in the mid afternoon as I did not notice that he had a tri-cycle or a trolley to pull his stall away. He would start his stall as early as five in the morning and then finish or what we call, "fold up the shop" by noon. He was another memorable "breakfast" person of Sibu.

I must say that he should be recognized as one of the earliest micro-credit ,health food hawkers of Sibu. He was a nice person with a kind word for old ladies and children. He never shoo-ed me away whenever I was a bother, asking lots of questions.

Here is a recipe for modern Apam Balik:

200g Plain Flour
60g Rice Flour
110g Brown Sugar
1 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
1/2 Tsp Salt
240ml Milk with 1 Tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
80ml Carbonated Water

4 tablespoons dry roasted peanuts and crushed roughly
more brown sugar
some roasted soy bean and rushed too

10-inch non-stick Crepe Pan
peanut Oil or margarine

This is a very traditional breakfast kuih and I am sure it is not Foochow in origin. So I continue to wonder how this hawker /Apek became an apam balik man of our childhood.

(NOte : The coffee cups are still available. If you are lucky, they can be found in the nice little supermarket run by the Wong family quite near Hock Peng's Hotel and Apam Balik is available in most of the pasar malam stalls in Sibu. But the apam balik of today is a very thin version. It will not have the thickness and the texture of the old days...I think there is a secret in its making. Or else why would we go back again and again to chomp on a slice or two, perhaps every day!!! Good memories often come with a slice of warm good heartedness heartedness. Cheers.)

9 memories:

Mumble jumble said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mumble jumble said...

The best Apam Balik would definitely be from Sibu, ANY vendor in Sibu as a matter of fact.

Here in KL, has a rather 'empty' taste.Rather hollow, And smaller in size (Yes I can get greedy)

James TC Wong said...

I love it! But haven't found a good stall in Miri that sells really "up-to-standard" apam balik (I didn't know its name until now - thanks sister!). Is this pan cake found only in East Malaysia and Brunei? Available in West Malaysia, Singapore too?

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Hi, Apam Balik is found in Malaysia, Singapore,Brunei and Indonesia. My friends and I are now trying to determine its history and development. Is it Nyonya? Is it Malay?

But I still prefer my Foochow version. Perhaps you are the one to perfect it to half inch thickness and make it Zun Zun like Dunlop pillow.

In Miri, go to the Central Market and look for a nice white haired lady...and because our money is so small now the apam is also very small...hahahahaha.....
Cheers. I wish I can have two slices now......and some tou hoo chui....

Do you have a set of the Kopi Tiam Cups? Let me know.

James TC Wong said...

No, I don't have the authentic coffee cups...
Is the Miri apam balik version the Foochow version?

I Am Sarawakiana said...

I consider it 50%. Most of the apam sold by our Malay brothers and sisters are the thin small ones.

Only the Tamu Muhibbah and Central Market sell the huge pan type.

May be one of these days we shall me one together or ask the old lady to teach us. Do not let the art die.

Have a good week. God bless,

Unknown said...

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Thanks for the YouTube reference. I had a look at it and will go back again and again to feel that I am in Sibu again.

I will let my friends, relatives and children know about this particular video.

One day I must visit this fantastic human who can actually do such an amazing feat! No wonder he is so slim and fit.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Selamat Gawai to all my Iban and Gawai Celebrating readers..

Perhaps apam balek is one kuih that will unite many of us culurally!!


web statistics