In search of apam balik made the good old fashioned way

Freshly made traditional apam balik ready for customers.

By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING, Oct 30: Ask almost any Malaysian, and they’ll tell you that there’s nothing tastier than having some apam balik on a lazy weekend afternoon with a cup of tea.

A traditional apam balik is a soft, spongy and fluffy pancake dessert that is popular among locals and can be found at many local street stalls.

It has been part of local Malaysian street food for many years and has integrated into our local food culture here in Sarawak.

According to Wikipedia, the pancake originated in Fujian, China. The savoury dessert was probably introduced by Hokkien Chinese immigrants in the early 19th century when they came to Malaysia and other countries in the South-East Asia region.

To make a typical (12 inches in diameter) apam balik, one needs to pour a scoopful of savoury battered flour into a greased hot thick metal pan to make a flat pancake before adding the fillings.

The pancake is then folded in half before it is ready to be served. Apam balik is best when eaten hot, and some people top it off with ice cream for extra flavour.

It has become a favourite traditional snack during coffee or tea break among locals.

However, this writer noticed that traditional spongy apam balik is not as easy to get at street stalls or eateries in the city.

Before, here in the city, it was always available in three areas: at a makeshift Malay street stall at Satok, Gambier Street and from a Chinese hawker at Kenyalang old theatre.

Maybe this writer did not try hard enough, but when directed to a few stalls in the city, it was not the traditional spongy apam balik but instead it was a thin, crispy folded wafer stuffed with blended roasted peanut fillings.

Finally, after a quick Google search, one stall that looks promising is the Sulaiman Apam Balik stall at BDC Commercial Centre.

Visiting the stall recently, it was a great relief to see freshly made traditional style apam balik placed on a food display container.

Sulaiman poses for a photo at his makeshift tent at BDC commercial Centre.

The stall belongs to 46-year-old Sulaiman Ahmad, who learned to make the traditional pancake from his brother-in-law.

“My wife’s family has been making the traditional dessert for as long as they remember. Some family members are still selling it in Kota Samarahan and Matang area,” he said.

Sulaiman revealed that he had been making he dessert for ten years after leaving his day job, and for the last four years, he has been selling it at the current location.

He said he is not surprised if they are not many making traditional apam balik in the city, as it involves a long, tedious preparation process to get the ingredients together.

“I started my day as early as 3am in the morning to prepare the batter flour and the ingredients for it. I can understand if people don’t make the traditional apam balik.

Sulaiman explained that he prepares the batter for the dessert fresh daily, by mixing 15kg of flour with two kilograms of sugars, some baking powder, sodium bicarbonate, vanilla flavour and an estimated measurement of water.

“It depends on the daily demand, and I sometimes sell less in a day, but I will try to finish my sales target daily,” he revealed.

Sulaiman said that there is no proper recipe measurement for his apam balik as he had never written it down.

“Everything is an estimated measurement to prepare the battered flour. This was how my brother-in-law taught me,” added Sulaiman.

He said making apam balik is simple, and it takes a few minutes for the battered flour to cook on the hot brass pan.

Roasted blended peanut is spread over the flat pancake to make the dessert.

“After we see air bubbles, we then sprinkle blended roasted peanuts and sugar on the flat pancake before folding it. To ensure the texture retains its softness, we brush margarine on the skin.”

He added that he would probably utilise some 20kg of dry peanuts for his apam balik in a week as that is the main ingredient for the savoury dessert.

“That is how our family did it over the years, and some people use creamy sweet corn for their filling, but I noticed that customers prefer blended roasted peanuts,” he shared.

Sulaiman, who loves the dessert, hopes that traditional apam balik will continue to be loved by many and remains readily available.

“You can prepare it at home yourself, and if you fancy mine, I am always here at my usual location to serve you,” he said.

Sulaiman Apam Balik stall at the vicinity of BDC Commercial Centre operates daily except Friday from 7.30am to 2pm. For inquiries, call 016-2496220. — DayakDaily

The locality of Sulaiman’s stall at BDC Commercial Centre.