Teng Wun

Mr Wun the baker and proprietor of Teng Wun Cake Shop, together with his wife, are making 400 to 500 pieces of kaya puffs a day, and were doing so for the last 30 years or so.

Quite an amazing number considering there are not that many residents, let alone tourists in KKB. Many of his customers are locals, including Indians, Malays and Orang Asli folks.

Kaya, also known as coconut custard is of Peranakan origin and not Hainanese, I believe.

Local Hainanese people (originally from the Island of Hainan in South China) are known for their culinary skills, especially fusion food of East and West.

Chicken chop and kaya-butter toasts are Malaysian-Hainanese inventions. Many also used to work on the trains’ (KTM) catering coach and operate kopitiam (coffee shops) around the country.

Another Hainanese in town proffered a theory as to why they are good cooks. They were latecomers to then Malaya. They came after the earlier wave of migration by the Hokkiens, Cantonese, Teochews and Hakkas. By the time they arrived, all viable business opportunities and job openings were controlled by powerful clans and triads.

Without a membership card, they ended up working for English expats (wealthy colonialists) as cooks and caretakers of mansions. Here at KKB, several Hainanese residents and their ancestors used to work at the colonial bungalows up on Fraser’s Hill.

It was from the British families that they were introduced to western food and they soon enhanced the recipes further by adding Chinese touches. It is also claimed that they modified a kebab leftover from a garden party one night and added peanut sauce.

The creators named it “Sar Tay” meaning ‘three pieces’ in Hainanese, and voilà!; satay was born. Most likely an urban legend but quite possible considering their inventive kitchen skills.

Back to Mr Woon. His shop also sells the famous kaya by itself in small jars. The spread used on bread is thinner than the kaya used for the puffs. Mr Woon says a thicker version is used in the puffs so that is easier to wrap the skin around.

The nice gentleman offered me some complimentary butter sponge cakes to try. I turned that down to leave tummy room for the puffs. Yes. They are the world’s most awesome kaya puffs.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 2000, f9, 1/60 sec.

Kaya In History

During the few days I spent at Kuala Kubu Bharu, I asked the town folk as to which is the most famous institution. Famous, as in well-known to stopover visitors, tourists and outsiders.

The answer, invariably, is always Teng Wun the Hainanese cake shop. Cakes are not the main magnet of the shop, though. It is their kaya (coconut egg jam) puffs; allegedly the world’s most awesome. The world here, means the handful of countries that sell this unique pastry.

Since I’m leaving town, I went there to buy some kaya puffs as edible souvenirs. Before stepping in, I was already enthralled by the facade. The shop front looks like the painted backdrop hanging on a Chinese opera stage. Except for that damn bicycle, of course.

The classic design is similar to that of many shops from days of old. Brutal but quick tooth-extraction shops, photo studios, gents tailors and traditional hemorrhoids (piles or buasir) busters; to name a few. I have seen the remains of similar shop-front designs at many other small towns.

Some were modernised beyond recognition while many others were left abandoned to become decaying relics from a bygone era. This one not only looks pristine but smells nice too.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 800, f9, 1/60 sec.