Serian housewife keeps traditions alive with specialty Kuih Jala as Gawai nears

Sunyim prepares the Kuih Jala in her kitchen.

By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING, May 31: Another well-known local snack popular during Sarawak’s many festive celebrations is Kuih Jala, a mesh-like crispy and crunchy snack that loosely translates to ‘net cake’.

In Iban, this must-have favourite sweet festive snack is called ‘panganan’ or ‘sitotok’ in Bidayuh (Serian).

The festive snack is a mixture of battered rice flour, ‘gula apong’, granulated white sugar, and coconut milk.

The mesh-like pattern of the snack which gives it its name resembles an ant nest or nets, and locals sometimes refer to it as ‘kuih sarang semut’.

The mesh-like appearance of Kuih Jala also gives it a crunchy texture.

To give the snack its signature crisscross pattern, the Kuih Jala maker would use a traditional coconut shell mold with small holes attached to a wooden handle.

The battered mixture would then be poured through a tiny hole and onto the hot oil of the wok and shaped into the snack.

This writer recently met with a 41-year-old mother of two, Sunyim Kudu of Serian, who shared her recipe and spoke about how she loved making her Kuih Jala.

“My mother would usually be the one making this crispy snack, but in the last five years, I too have mastered the art of making it,” she said with a smile.

Sunyim said she is always eager to do traditional cakes and snacks since her teenage years.

“I would always put my heart into what I learned from my elders and practice how to make local delicacies such as Kuih Jala.

“Of course, there are others snacks for festive season and for me, Kuih Jala is one that is a must-have especially when celebrating Gawai Dayak or the harvest festival,” she enthused.

Sunyim said the sweet snack is symbolic of the harvest festival because it is made from rice flour.

“Rice is from padi, and there are many snacks and beverages we can make out of it.

“To me, we should turn what we harvest into good food and beverages, like ‘tuak’, fermented wine made from glutinous rice,” she opined.

“During Christmas, I observed that there are many types of cakes served to make the festival merrier. Why can’t we do the same?” she asked.

Sunyim revealed that for this year’s Gawai Festival, she would be making 200 pieces of Kuih Jala.

“For that quantity, I will used seven kilos of rice flour, two fresh coconuts for the milk, half a kilo of palm sugar and two kilos sugar to make the battered mixture. For frying, I will use three litres of cooking oil,” she revealed.

“In Serian, here we call the crispy and crunchy snack, ‘Sitotok’. It is derived from the sound ‘tok-tok’ when we hit the handle of the mold with a wooden stick,” she explained.

Sunyim lauded that many people in her village of Kampung Bedup Merang are keeping with the tradition of making Kuih Jala.

“If people of my generation continue making these snacks, then the tradition lives on,” she believed.

Sunyim further revealed that the crispy snack can last for a while if stored in an airtight container.

For Sunyim, she also commercialises her Kuih Jala and distributes them to individuals and grocery stores in nearby villages and Serian town to sell.

“I used to pack eight pieces of the crispy snack in a sealed plastic bag and sell it at RM5 per packet. But now, the prices of the ingredients and cooking oil has gone up, so I am forced to sell five pieces for RM5,” she said.

Sunyim said that Kuih Jala is now more than a festive snack, and for her, she sells it to make an income for herself and her family.

“Personally, my family loves this sweet crispy snack as it is not only available during the festival.

“This year, after not being able to celebrate Gawai Dayak due to the pandemic for the last two years, my family and friends who come and visit me during my open house will be served the Kuih Jala.

“It goes well with hot beverages like tea or coffee,” she said.

For further inquiry’s on Sunyim’s Kuih Jala, call 016-682 1944. — DayakDaily