Cupolas catching the
morning light, glistening as they came out of the oven, six to a row, then six times again, shoulder to shoulder in the tray. Pak Mat pulled the roti paung
then dabbed ghee on them, the gleaming domed tops baked to light brown. This was Trengganu ghee, the minyök sapi
from the milk of cows of the orang darat
poured into clear glass bottles, then bunged with a rolled-up banana leaf. It curdled on rainy days into a corally yellowish-white cloud, or tidur
as Mother used to say, it'd gone to sleep. In the heat of Pök Mat's kitchen the minyök
was now wide awake, spreading easily on the bun tops, the roti paung
, lending them its rich, salty taste, and the aroma of ghee on a hot surface that was an absolute gourmet's delight.
Pök Mat went by many names, he was Che Mat Che Senani, or he was Pök Mat Nasi Minyök, but to most he was just their Pök Mat. He was a bulky man, tallish if I remember him well, as he stood there with his baker's paunch, in a white T-shirt that buttoned halfway down the chest. And his sarong — for he was always in his sarong, except on formal occasions — held loosely around his waist, but I can assure you that it stayed there all day long.
There was a crowd already at Pök Mat's gate, a couple of feet from his baking shed, and it was not yet 7 o'clock. The sunlight was soft this time of day, and the bicycling crowd of school children and the rickshaws were breezing back and forth in the morning traffic of Jalan Pantai that used to cut the coast from the hinterland of our Tanjong. The paung
kept coming out from the oven, catching the early light in their sheen, as Pök Mat stood and looked the look of satisfaction, and then he looked again as he pulled up the sarong
around his waist, and twirled the coil of cloth atop his head.
His young assistants wrapped up the paung
in newspaper sheets, two maybe for a boy to munch en route to class, or six for a family man to take home where spouse and offsprings were waiting to break the dome and set free the head of steam from within, to dunk the bread into their hot cups of milky tea or Milo carried home from the stalls in cans that once contained condensed milk.
The roti paung
was the art of Pök Mat but to me he was always the beluda
man. The beluda
was baked in a cigarette tin and stood taller than the paung,
with its shallow dome top that rose above the open round rim of the tin. You don't see or hear much of the beluda
these days, but those who remember will remember it as a spongy bread, sweet and lemök
to the taste, and was halfway between a bread and tea cake. Lemök
) is a problem word as it stands between a little sweetness and richness and a little fat, and is sometimes used to describe a pleasing voice. I can feel the lemök
-ness of Pök Mat's beluda
and its soft texture in the mouth, and I hear birds singing in soft rays of light as Pök Mat's coil of rag-cloth rises like a halo above his head.
Sometimes Pök Mat abandoned his baking altogether and sold only the nasi minyök
for which he was also famous. He cooked the rice in a huge brass pot lined with a layer of fat (ghee perhaps) and when the time was right, he'd mix in green rice and red from smaller pots. So this was the nature of the mix — you'd find green grains and red in the main body of white of the nasi minyök
that came with a dab of ground chili and chunks of meat cooked in the light Malay gulai
In coffee shops and tea stalls they served bread that stood like rows of terraced houses, baked in tins in the Chinese bakery in Ladang or in Pulau Kambing. This was the plain all-purpose bread to slice and toast, and then eaten with the kaya
spread. It was dipped in curry sauce, and in hot drinks of course, and when its soft inner dough was dug out and rolled into a ball between the thumb and index finger, it served as a useful bait for the cicak
We bought our roti bata
piping hot from the bakery by the cemetery in Ladang, but the better loaf reputedly came from the other side of town, from the bakery of Pulau Kambing that served the best tables in Kuala Trengganu and did even better than that. In a story that many swear is true, a young would-be-ustaz
(religious reacher) was interviewed by Tuan Haji Salleh "Misbaha" bin Awang (a well-known local historian and official at the local department of Religious Affairs) when the Tuan Haji pulled a surprise.
"What do angels eat?" he asked the aspiring ustaz
Pulau Kambing of course!" he replied.