We've been living in Malaysia approaching four and a half years now and, while we certainly haven't gobbled up everything the country has to offer, we are pretty familiar with its culinary landscape. It's not often that we come across an unfamiliar edible. When we do, it's always cause for celebration, but especially so in this case.
Most of our sojourns in George Town (there have been quite a few of them these last six months) involve at least one trip to Chow Rasta Market -- usually on our last day, to buy a bulging bag of purslane to take back to our kitchen in Kuala Lumpur (why is this lovely green vegetable not sold in KL? or perhaps it is, and we just don't know where).
By now we know Chow Rasta's lanes and shops and hawkers well. But about ten days ago we came across something new: an elderly vendor making an unusual type of kuih ketayap, on the spot.
How could we have missed her before? It turns out she's only there on Saturdays, public holidays, and school holidays -- when her daughter-in-law is free to help with the rolling, wrapping, and selling.
This lady's ketayap differ from the standard version -- the type that's sold all over Malaysia -- in several ways.
There's no pandan juice in the batter, so the kuih's wrapper is white instead of green. And it's made only of rice flour and water (so we're told, anyway), so the wrapper's texture is sticky-chewy rather the usual flapjackish chewy-spongy.
The filling is made not of shredded coconut cooked with gula Melaka (coconut palm sugar) and a pandan leaf, but of shredded coconut and a sprinkle of chopped peanuts mixed with white cane sugar.
There is something quite special about a kuih ketayap hot off the griddle. This vendor's always are; she can only cook two wrappers at one time and customers tend to purchase in bulk.
So you place your order. The daughter-in-law jots it down on a plastic bag with a magic marker and tells you to go and find something else to do for thirty minutes. You return and claim your bag of too-hot-to-hold ketyap, blow on them furiously to cool them down, and take a bite.
The lightly oily wrapper is pleasantly soft and gummy, and its warmth heightens the aroma of the roasted peanuts and the flavor of the fresh coconut, and melts some of the sugar. This ketayap's not too sweet, so two -- three, even -- aren't at all out of the question.
Daughter-in-law tells us that mom-in-law learned to make ketayap this way from her husband, and that he began selling at Chow Rasta Market over 40 years ago. She thinks she's the only Penang vendor of this sort of kuih ketayap still at it. Whether or not she's right about that I don't know. But I do know this all-business ketayap vendor is a treasure.
Here's to serendipitous finds. I think you can guess where we'll be this Saturday morning.
Chinese kuih ketayap, Chow Rasta Market, George Town, Penang. Saturdays, public holidays, school holidays from 7:30 am until sold out (usually by 10:30am or 11am). 60 sen each.
(The pandan version are sold freshly made at night, from a stall at George Town's McAllister Road night market, in front of the Sunway Hotel.)