Previously we’ve looked at the different types of pastries from the west, but did you know that on our very Malaysian shores there’s a plethora of delectable pastries? From the humble Portuguese inspired Chinese egg tart to the roti canai, we take a look at some of our famous local pastries.
Malaysia is a country made up of a variety of races, with Malay, Chinese and Indian as its predominant culture in Peninsular Malaysia and the Kadazandusun and Iban races amongst the many indigenous tribes on the island of Borneo. This is why Malaysian culture has adopted a variety of cuisines, with many varieties and borrowings from other cultures. For most folks who enjoy dim sum brunches on Sundays, egg tarts are no strangers to the table. Part of the usual fair may also include sesame balls (jin deui 煎堆, chee ma kau 芝麻球), five spiced doughnuts (haam zin peng, 咸煎饼) and lotus paste pan fried pancakes (wo peng, 锅饼), which are all quintessentially proud representations of Chinese pastry.
Egg Tart 蛋撻
For most of our folks who enjoy their dim sum brunches on blissful Sundays, egg tarts (daan taat, 蛋撻) are no strangers to the table. Inspired by Portuguese egg custard tarts called pasteis de nata, the sweet bite-size snack is comprised of creamy egg filling nestled in a round flaky tart crust. It was believed that this Chinese version of eggy custard tarts was popularised in the then-British rule Hong Kong’s cha chaan tengs (a literal translation of ‘tea-meal halls’), which are budget restaurants that were famous for localising British cuisine during the colonial rule.
Instead of directly innovating from the pastel de nata, Chinese egg tarts were an invention inspired by the British variation of custard tarts for obvious reasons. The crux of the new Asian variation of egg tarts lies in the fact that it is essentially a harmonious fusing of Cantonese stewed egg custard (dun daan, 炖蛋) filled into western style shortcrust cookie shell or laminated puff pastry shells. Distinct from its European cousins, it has a lighter texture and is less sweet than its predecessors to suit Chinese taste buds that were not accustomed to heavy notes of cinnamon flavours as well as staggeringly high levels of sugar and cream in their egg custard.
Variation of Egg Tart: Flaky Skin Egg Tart 酥皮蛋撻
While the cookie shell egg tart (kuk kei pei daan taat, 曲奇皮蛋撻) is essentially the same as the French shortcrust pastry base that is used in European cuisine, the puff pastry shell egg tart (sou pei daan taat, 酥皮蛋撻) is made with laminated pastry, although different in methods. While the Western viennoiserie–style puff pastry gains its layered texture by folding butter in between layers of dough, the puff pastry, also known as “flaky skin” (sou pei, 酥皮) laminated pastry combines a separately kneaded oil dough and water dough like preparing a Swiss roll, instead of folding in layer-by-layer creating a flaky multi-layered pastry texture.
Variation of Egg Tart: Portuguese Egg Tart 葡式蛋撻
Another variation of daan taat is the Portuguese style egg tart (pou taat, 葡撻), originating from Hong Kong’s neighbouring region Macau that had once been ruled by the Portuguese Empire before its handover back to China. That version of egg tart which has a caramelised finish on its egg custard bears a higher resemblance to the egg tart’s original version of pasteis de nata.
Kaya Puff 咖椰角
If egg tarts are considered a foreign importation, famous Ipoh kaya puffs are definitely a blue blood local breed. The kaya puff is a pastry that is filled with kaya, a Malaysian egg and coconut jam. The kaya puff’s pastry has the same kneading method as the puff pastry egg tart’s, but traditionally kaya puffs were rolled with lard instead of butter. According to Malaysian food writer Lim Kim Chern, he states that the invention of kaya puffs was believed to originate from an old-school bakery, Teng Wun Bakery & Confectionery in Kuala Kubu Bharu, Selangor by its owner to resist competition from neighbouring kopitiams serving kaya toasts.
Curry Puff 咖哩角
The curry puff variation runs parallel to that of egg tarts, where the Malay version of karipap or epok-epok is essentially shortcrust pie pastry with potato and chicken curry filling folded inside it, whilst the Indian version found in Indian bakeries or food stalls are akin to puff pastry curry samosas, having a spiral, flaky shell as a result of multilayering. Another distinction between the Malay and Indian-style karipaps is that the spiral curry puff pastry does not use butter as its fat, but hot cooking oil.
Those who’ve watched the Little Nyonya series will never forget the unique appearance of this Peranakan snack: inverted top hat shaped pastry shells filled with sautéed jicama and shredded carrot with dried shrimp finished off with a coriander leaf on top for a dash of greenery. One of the versions about its origins is that it was derived from British pastry during the colonial rule of Malaya, and hence its name ‘pie tee’ which sounds similar to a ‘patty’. A pie tee shell is a pastry made not only with all-purpose flour but also with rice flour and egg, where such a simple batter composition and a relatively easy preparation echoes a more rustic and down-to-earth impression. But what makes it so artisanally elegant as a dish is the technique in handling it with its mould. The need to soak the pie tee mould in hot oil at the right temperature and with a certain angle, as well as making sure the batter coats onto the mould evenly are crucial factors in making top quality Peranakan golden top hats that will bear a beautiful, edgy rim to it.
Although more a bread than a pastry, the roti canai, I would safely conclude, attains its noble status as an indisputable national delicacy universally recognised and approved of among us Malaysians. Virtually no one isn’t a patron to their neighbourhood mamak stall ordering this fine roti with dhall or kari of their choice. Roti canai literally means thinly kneaded bread in Malay, but of course this circular flatbread bears origins from our Indian community.
Roti canai is a kind of classic pastry as it is dough composed of flour, water and ghee (which is a form of clarified butter). Tossed and spun in the air, the roti dough folds itself when it lands on the steel table top before it is stretched out. After several flips and stretches, multilayers are formed by the repeated process and the dough turns into a viennoiserie–esque pastry, rightly giving roti canai the crisp, aromatic exterior with chewy and fluffiness beneath its top surface.
Were you aware that the Malaysians have long been surrounded with all these varieties of pastry? Have you ever had a sense of feeling that you’ve been lied to all this while not knowing the things you eat which you only know as kuih or roti are also pastries? Let us know your thoughts!
For part 1 of the series, see Dough You Know The Difference? The 5 Basic Types Of Pastry.