Wednesday, February 27, 2013

martabak agung, say yes to junk food

Don't you find that sometimes the greasiest, most unhealthy food are the tastiest? Like skinny french fries with a slab of juicy beef patty and crispy bacon inside a pair of pillowy burger bun. Or a bowl of instant ramen with its al-dente curly golden noodles and its tear-jerking spicy broth. Or slices of spam simply dipped in egg and fried until golden brown,  smeared with some ABC chilli sauce, eaten with a bowl of steamed rice.

I know it's probably not good for me, but it's so yumm!

Which is why, it's best not to have too often. I think of junk food as a treat to myself.  I go to my local junk food place probably once every 6 months, if that. Same goes with ramen and spam.

But when I do have it, I savour the moment, enjoy every bite, every mouthful, knowing that it'd probably be a while until the next treat.

Martabak kambing is firmly in the junk food camp. It's greasy, probably unhealthy, but it's darn delicious. I like how the skin is crispy on the outside, but inside is soft and omelette like. In my family, martabak is always bought along with terang bulan, more due to geographical reasons than anything else. The location of this est. 1971 martabak vendor is across the road from the terang bulan vendor, inside a small shopping complex, near a stationery  and book store called Siswa.

This particular martabak vendor has been in business ever since we've been buying martabak. I chatted with the portly chef as he leisurely prepared our order. He was generous with his cooking method and chatted away freely, but was more coy with the recipe, modified from the original 1938 recipe from India. I found out that he's been cooking this delicious omelette parcel for decades and has perfected the recipe in as many years. And when one is as successful as they are, a bit of secrecy is warranted.

His honed in cooking skills were also evident. Ingredients were prepped and passed from assistant to chef without words. Eggs were cracked into a stainless steel mug forcefully but carefully so not a stray egg shell enter it. Mixed into it were a healthy helping of spring onions, red shallots, onions and marinated goat meat. The goat meat was diced finely rather than minced. The only thing he wouldn't tell me is the marinade for the goat meat, no matter how much I prodded. But judging from the colour, I suspect a bit of sweet soy sauce might have something to do with it.

The  chef reminisced fondly of when he was young, he had to knead all the dough by hand, "Thankfully those days are over. Now I leave all the kneading to a machine. Give my old joints a break," he chuckled. The dough that has been made fresh daily is then individually portioned into small dough balls that is then lined up neatly inside a deep rectangular tray. Normally martabak dough is immersed in oil to keep them plump and malleable while resting, as well as to prevent them sticking to each other. Though here at Martabak Agung, the dough portions were coated with sticky butter-like goop, which from what I discern, is a mixture of some eggs and melted margarine.

When our order was received, two little dough balls were placed side-by-side on a stainless steel bench. Each were pressed down forcefully with deft fingers in an outwardly direction on all sides, as if he's making two mini pizza hors d'œuvres. When they are the size not larger than his palm, one was stacked on top of the other. The stacked dough were patted down and again pressed outwards against the bench, combining them into one single entity.

When it's the size of a medium sized pizza, yet still opaque, the dough was firmly grasped on one end while simultaneously being lifted and twisted upwards. As the dough visibly stretched outwards on its upwards journey, it made its downward journey and stretched even more before it was slapped against the bench. This to-ing and fro-ing were repeated a couple more times until the dough was no longer but a thin and translucent paper.

Beside his bench was a large cooking surface of stainless steel bronzed by decades of usage. It's square with a 3-cm lip around its perimeter to prevent oil spilling out. The surface is mostly flat, with a slight angle downwards towards the centre where the frying oil is pooling.

The chef's particular way of cooking his martabak was to carefully slap the paper-like dough on the diagonal into the square surface. One end would be dipped into the hot oil, where the other perched against the lip. The dipped end would start bubbling up from the heat as he emptied and smoothed the shallot and goat filling on top of the dough's surface. At which point he would let go the perched end, and like a fully stocked boat, the dough (and its filling on top) would sail inwards into the waiting hot oil.

He would leave the dough to colour slightly before folding four sides towards the centre, resembling that of a breton galette, leaving a small opening in the centre. To ensure the martabak is cooked evenly, the chef would occasionally bathe it with the hot oil, flattening it and flipping it to cook the other side.

And when it's, as they say, golden brown and delicious the martabak was cut dead centre into two pieces. The pieces were stacked on top of each other and bathed further with the hot oil before being dragged and berthed on the lip of the square pan where no oil can reach. The excess oil from the martabak leached out and flowed towards the centre of the pan into the pooling oil. Meanwhile, he would cut the martabak into 8 sections in 3 cuts. He achieved all these cooking, flipping, bathing, cutting with his only cooking utensil, a narrow and flat metal paddle.

Martabak - Rp 20,000
All the assistant needed to do now was to line the small takeaway paper box with a square-cut  banana leaf, where the martabak will nestle snuggly, waiting to be devoured.

Martabak for breakfast?

Martabak Agung

Jalan Merdeka Timur 2F

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