Let Them Eat Cake
The idea of food as a palliative runs through many cultures, from the Jewish chicken soup to the pisang bakörang that Mother used to pull out piping hot from the fire to comfort us every time we had a fever. There were other items too from the cooking pot that made their way into our domestic pharmacopoeia: halba (fenugreek), for instance, and ginger, and that appalling paste that came, via many Indian tongues, into our language as inggu or hinggu (asafoetida). In French, that most diplomatic of tongues, inggu is known as merde du diable or turd of the devil.
Sometimes in our midst in Trengganu were kids with puffy cheeks glowing in the brightest of blue. This signalled a malady that was know in Trengganuspeak as bekök keng, swelling of the jaw a.k.a. mumps, and the coat of remedial paint was a mixture of vinegar to shrink the swelling and indigo for the same effect perhaps as bells did for those poor lepers in days of yore. And then there was that cold poultice of dried tamarind soaked in water, pasted on to your forehead (with a shock that made you jump out of your skin) when you were fiercely burning with fever.
This last Ramadan, incapacitated by some virulent bugs, I had a brief respite when a friend brought lompat tikam, which I quaffed down in one heroic therapeutic dose as soon as we reached iftar. It made me feel a lot better. And then I got this email from someone I know as Abang Pin of Kemamang, that proved the old Trengganu adage about cakes and their remedial powers.
"Tapi rama orang kkabor Abg Pin, obat diabetes ialah Tape Ubi Kayu. Abg Pin cuba gak 2/3 kali, tapi kesang dök berapa sangat, sebab Abg Pin makang sikit — sa'mas je. Orang hök kkabör tu dia makang serial sekali makang. Abg Pin takut makang banyak, sebab makang obat spital."*I am of course stretching my definitions by classifying tapai (sweet fermented tapioca) as a cake, but the point I am trying to make is that there’s nothing in Trengganu that cannot be taken on the excuse that it is medicinal. There are as many illnesses in our daily lives as there are foods that clash with your pains and ague: nangka (jackfruit) for instance, is contraindicated for someone with muscular aches, or any food that has gone through the irik (vigorously stirred) is to be kept away from someone recovering from the demang (fever) for fear that he will suffer a betang (relapse); but then the patient himself or someone with a kindly heart will come forward to say, ”Dök apa eh, makanglah sikik, buat ubat!”**
When I told our Abang Pin in Kemamang of my happy tryst with the löpat tikang (lompat tikam=flying stab?) with a caveat that he, with his diabetes, should perhaps steer clear of this syrup-bathed angel, he popped back another email:
”Balik ke löpat tikang, Abg Pin makang jugök, le ning orang jual ddalang bekah plastik hak bulat, seringgit sa. Tapi hak abg suka, Mek Berembat tabor dengan tahi minyak di atas (kköleh sagu) yang dibuat oleh Mek Munah hök dudok dekat rumöh Mök Som, sabelah rumah Ma Wan Itam buat keropok. Le ning ta'dök döh.”***So there you have it in a brief paragraph: a short history of Trengganu cakes, a street map of our old kampung, and a stout belief that cake conquers all. It nearly brought tears to my eyes.
* “Many people told me that the cure for diabetes is tapai. I tried it a few times with negligible results because I ate only fifty-sen’s worth. The person who told me this ate a ringgit’s worth at each sitting. I am reluctant to eat too much as I’m on hospital medication.”
** ”Never mind, just take a little as a medicine!”
*** ”Back to the löpat tikang, I do still eat it. Nowadays it is sold in round plastic tubs, at a ringgit each. But what I like is Mek Berembat sprinkled with fried desiccated coconut (kkoleh sagu, sago paste) made by Mek Munah who lived near the house of Mök Som, the neighbour of Ma Wan Itam the keropok maker. No one makes it nowadays.”
The contents of this blog is given for information only. The remedies mentioned have not been approved by the FDA. If you have health problems please consult your own shaman, cake-maker or health practitioner.