StreetFood: Martabak Manis
By N Mark Castro
You get a dough. You put on chocolate syrup. Butter. Lots of butter. Sugar. Coconut Milk.
Then you can call it Diabetes.
But this sinfully delicious treat is a must-have to understand the unique culinary taste of Indonesia’s diverse palate.
A Martabak is usually not made at home by any family in Indonesia, nor is it bought in five-star hotels. People would buy it from street vendors that have perfected the challenging recipe and made readily available.
ORIGIN OF MURTABAK
Murtabak or Mutabbaq originated in Yemen in the hijaz region of Saudi Arabia. The word Mutabbaq in Arabic means folded. In Indonesia, these sweet, thick stuffed pancakes or pan-fried breads are known as Martabak Manis, Sweet Martabak, Terang Bulan or Kue Pinang Bangka. Malaysian’s call them Apam Balik, while variations of the same are also available in Singapore.
If we are to trace the origin of Martabak in the region, however, its roots would be in Bangka Island of Indonesia, hence, the reference to “Martabak Bangka”, although it is called Kolopan.
A popular variation of Martabak is Martabak telur or Egg Martabak, also called “Martabak Asin” or salty/savory martabak, which is made using a thin skin flour filled with duck eggs that are beaten like an omelette, mixed with curried ground meats, scallions, among others. It’s usually served with cucumber salad or “Achar” (Achara).
The Martabak’s “skin” is made by spinning the pastry until it’s very thin, like filo pastry, then shallow-fried in a custom made flattened heavy wok which, according to the vendor, has a a diameter of about 25 cm and 3 cm thickness. While the skin or pastry is laid flat on the wok, the egg mixture is then poured in. Then the pastry is folded quickly while being fried, making a rectangular wrap. This requires a mastery in cooking technique. When it is done, the martabak is cut into smaller squares for serving. It is often enjoyed together with pickled diced cucumber, and a dark brown sauce made of vinegar and palm sugar.
While it’s presented in a more inviting way in five-star hotels, the best place to get your Martabak would be how the Indonesians prefer it, which would be from —
Watching a Martabak man make the skin is like watching an Italian guy making pizza crust at the local Sbarro’s. They beat the dough and flip it, and swing it and stretch it into this super thin translucent skin. It takes some serious skills, but if you want to try it at home, you can substitute the skin using a ready to use egg roll skin, and make an individual size Martabak.
Or just enjoy the evening by visiting one of these —
To have a real sense of how Indonesians take their midnight snacks seriously, which kind of reminds you of the 24-hour Wendy’s Mobile Burger spots in the US.
And the real problem why Martabak failed to excite the culinary taste of the Philippines when it was introduced by some returning Filipino expatriates is that they were too cheap to bring the real deal:
So you’ll know what Asha and Margaux have really tasted.
You can get the Martabak Manis recipe here. This isn’t some girl food blog.
But to bid you a great weekend ahead, here’s my advice.