Tales of 4 ‘ancient’ biscuits that are very much a part of Sarawak

Clockwise from left to bottom right: Chinese Twisted Pretzel Biscuit, Iced Gem Biscuit, Sesame Round Biscuit (Hao Biscuit) and Spiral Biscuit.

KUCHING, Sept 13: Four local biscuits, namely Chinese Twisted Pretzel Biscuit (or ‘Yu Tiao’ in Chinese), Iced Gem Biscuit, Sesame Round Biscuit (‘Hao’ Biscuit) and Spiral Biscuit (‘Biskut Telinga’) are today still ranked as the favourite, nostalgic snacks among many.

They are widely available in grocery stores and supermarkets across the state, and they came into being well before the likes of Chipsmore, Julie’s, Jacob’s Crackers, Danish Buttered Biscuits and other imported brands flooding today’s market.

There are many local, high-calorie, nostalgic biscuits but none as popular as these fabulous four, which are well-liked among rural and urban folks then and now. Some consider them as their “energy booster” before heading to the farms.

The Chinese Twisted Pretzel Biscuit also carries with it a tale or two. Natives called it by many names, including ‘Roti Tai Mayau’, which literally means ‘Cat Poo Biscuit’ as it resembles a feline’s poo!

A friend who now resides in England recently came back for a holiday in his hometown of Sri Aman. He went around asking ‘bisi roti tai mayau’ and was delighted that the grocers knew exactly what he wanted to buy.

“It is my favourite biscuit,” he confided in me.

From left: Packets of Sesame Biscuit, Twisted Pretzel Biscuit and Spiral Biscuit waiting to be savoured with a mug of hot Chinese tea.

In another incident, a villager in Bau who was craving for the biscuit went to a shop and had to turn contortionist because he did not know the name of the biscuit. But upon seeing his twisted arms and legs, which nearly made him fall over, the shopkeeper knew what he was after.

Vivienne Lie, a coffee shop proprietress here, told DayakDaily that she crunched these ‘fab four’ once in a while as they served as “power banks” to get her through the rigours of serving customers in the shop.

“I also need them (biscuits) for my 10,000 steps a day routine to keep the weight off and to stay fit. You see, the cafe opens at 4.30am and closes at 2pm, so these biscuits give me the much-needed calories,” she chuckled.

She added that she shared the biscuits with her staff, too.

“They cost RM3 per packet, except for the Iced Gem Biscuit, which cost RM4,” she said, adding that the Chinese Twisted Pretzel is actually made of flour, sugar, margarine and ammonium.

Vivienne Lie enjoying her Chinese Twisted Pretzel Biscuit or ‘Yu Tiao’ at her café.

Lie disclosed she loved to savour the two-inch deep-fried plaited snack that is coated with sugar with a cup of Chinese tea.

Saying that her parents loved them too, Lie said, “These snacks are like ancient of sorts to me. I have known them as far as I can remember, but I am very surprised they are still very popular.” She hoped they would continue to be made as they are a sort of cultural heritage of the state.

“To me, even though I am young and belong to the new generation, I want these snacks to be part of our cultural heritage. We must not let other snacks take over and we lose something in the local food culture,” she said as a matter-of-factly.

Lie’s staff, who only wanted to be identified as ‘Ellena, also has a soft side for Iced Gem Biscuit, especially its icing top and colour.

“The many colours make it a very attractive snack. These colours never fail to invite people to pick up one and put it in their mouth. It just kind of melts in your mouth when taken.

“I also love the other three types, but the Iced Gem is just easier to eat,” she shared.

Ellena enjoying Iced Gem Biscuit.

Dietitian Cyril Sibon, who is based at Sarawak General Hospital (SGH), commented that these ‘Fab Four’ were a good source of energy and contained some protein. But he cautioned that they might be high in trans fat and sugar, which makes them unsuitable for diabetics.

But despite their pros and cons, many people believe these beloved fabulous four are here to stay as they form a unique part of the state. — DayakDaily