Apam Balik has got to be one of the simplest and most traditional snack you could find in Malaysia that is great for anytime may it be breakfast, tea break or supper. It comes in a variety of names too especially among the Chinese community, like 曼煎糕 in Mandarin, ‘Jin Long Gou’, ‘Jin Long Bao’ or ‘Dai Gao Min’ in Cantonese and ‘Ban Chang Koay’ in Hokkien.
Over the years the pancake has gone through evolution as well and you can now find it with all sorts of filling like chocolate, ham and cheese, kaya, peanut butter etc. I am sure the kids love it for this reason.
But for people like me who grew up in the 80s, I still prefer the traditional version, which is filled with just crushed peanuts, sweet corn and sugar. It evokes plenty of childhood memories too, as apam balik and kopi o used to be my breakfast every Sunday when I was a kid.
In Bukit Mertajam there is a pancake seller who has been in this business for over 20 years. For as long as I can remember, the uncle comes in a motorbike at dawn, parks right in front of the famous cendol stall and starts preparing the pancakes with the help of his wife and son. He would use a wooden plank to plate the freshly made pancakes and slice it up in such a precision that each piece had the same size. A fond childhood memory indeed.
Recently I was told by my sister that a particular roadside pancake stall doing brisk business near the old Cathay cinema. My curiosity brought me there and I was pleasantly surprised to know that it was the son who was selling. Then I realized they would sell at the market in the morning then continue here in the noon.
Anyway, a specialty of their pancake is that they are still sticking to the traditional ways of using a charcoal stove instead of gas. If you ask me to taste a pancake cooked on gas and another on charcoal honestly I won’t be able to tell the difference. But seeing and tasting a food cooked on charcoal does make you feel that it somehow tastes better and has a better fragrance too lol.
The timing is pretty important especially when you managing a charcoal stove. But from what I observed, his routine is very organized and the pancake would be ready just after the previous pancake was cut and sold. Like I mentioned earlier, a wooden plank is used to transfer the pancake from the hot pan to another larger plank.
The pancake was then folded into half and left to rest for a while.
A quick dip of the knife in the water ensures a smooth and clean cut. Firstly, a chunk of the pancake is cut.
Then sliced diagonally into even triangles.
Each slice is sold for only 60 cents, a mere 20 cents increase compared to 20 years ago. The outer layer is warm (not crispy like you would have expected) while the inner layer is chewy and sweet. If you are taking away (that’s the only option actually lol) the fragrance would fill your car immediately like what I experienced, even though I only bought three pieces.
Usually there would be a line of customers waiting to buy the pancake but waiting time should be short because of his speed. But sometimes customers might order an entire pancake so you would have to wait for an extra 10-15 minutes or so. He might also run out of batter at times because he prepares it on the spot to ensure freshness, unlike some that are made earlier then kept refrigerated.
BM Cathay Charcoal Pancake can be found in front of the now defunct Cathay cinema, directly opposite Honey Kopitiam or diagonally opposite Jit Sin Independent High School along Jalan Aston. GPS Coordinates: N5 21.745 E100 27.824