One day, Indonesian street food will get the respect it deserves.
Satay will be elevated to the same status as yakitori, kebabs and other charcoal-grilled skewered meats. Punters will talk about ayam goreng (fried chicken) the same way they talk about Nashville fried chicken. And the archipelago’s strong sweet and snack game – a class of dish known as kue, pronounced “kway” – will be recognised as the equal of Thailand’s khanom, France’s patisserie and India’s chaat. If you’re looking for somewhere to begin your self-guided tour of the kue universe, consider the martabak manis at Ah Beng Kopitiam, a homely Indonesian restaurant in Langford – and my favourite place to eat in Perth right now.
Think of the martabak manis as a fluffy, giant stuffed crumpet-slash-pancake hybrid. Originating in southern China, the dish has spread throughout Southeast Asia, where it goes by a range of names, including min chiang kueh in Singapore and apam balik in Malaysia and some parts of Indonesia. David Wijaya, the Indonesian-Chinese chef-owner of Ah Beng Kopitiam, was born and raised in Jakarta where martabak manis is a popular street food, so he’s running with the name and taste he grew up with. The recipe and method, however, was something he and his team had to reverse engineer over nine months of trial and error. It was time well-spent.
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Without tumbling too far down this particular cooking wormhole, the fluff and flavour of Ah Beng Kopitiam’s version comes down to sweating the details. The most important of these is making the batter for each batch fresh, and, crucially, letting it rest for an hour before cooking. According to Wijaya, the batter (egg, flour, bicarb soda and water) is only viable for an additional hour after resting before it starts to lose its potency. Dedicated cast-iron pans are used to cook the pancakes, which are then topped with white sugar and cooked a little further with the lid on before being finished with margarine. (Wijaya insists only Blue Band or Wisman margarine can produce that real-deal martabak manis flavour.) Each pancake is then cut in half, filled, pressed together like the puffy crumpet sandwich of your dreams and cut into finger-friendly pieces.
Traditionally these cakes were filled with sugar and either peanut or sesame, but the 21st-century martabak manis features all manner of fillings. (Markobar, a martabak chain established by the son of Indonesian president Joko Widodo, is famous for serving pancakes crammed with high-end chocolate.) My go-to order is the glorious trifecta of Nutella, crushed peanuts and chocolate. Straight out of the pan, the filling tastes and feels like a Snickers bar you’ve left in a hot car a little bit too long – in the best way imaginable. Wijaya says cheese and chocolate is another popular flavour, and the pandan and banana number I recently tasted also hit the spot.
A heads-up: these pancakes are made to order, so they’re not always available – nor are they on the regular menu. (Somewhat odd when you consider the effort that went into the recipe development.) Having said that, each batch of batter is enough for three pancakes, so if you’re lucky, there’ll be some on the counter when you pop in. If you’re organised, however, you’ll call ahead and pre-order your martabak manis – likely the best $12 you’ll spend on dessert this year – plan the rest of your lunch and dinner around the dish, and know what true happiness tastes like.