As the perfect side to the morning’s breakfast or as accompaniment to one’s afternoon tea, the apom balik is a light, healthy and inexpensive snack. It comes in several variations – topped with egg, cream corn, peanuts, cheese or, god forbid, even boba! Or it is eaten plain, with a sprinkling of sugar on top.
For the past 25 years, Sai Ravindran and his wife, Kanchana Devi, have been selling apom balik on the street corner just adjacent to New Cathay, the famous breakfast joint in Pulau Tikus. He was previously running the same business at a nearby location.
“My family has been selling apom balik since 1974, beginning with my father, who was a hospital chef before that,” says Ravindran. “It was through him that I was exposed to the art of making apom balik when I was 15. I decided to inherit his business to prevent the skill from being lost.”
It’s a labour of love to sell the snack, which Ravindran happily reveals he has received media attention for, from being featured in newspapers such as The Star and Malay Mail to being on 8TV’s “Best in the World” show.
Ravindran, a Methodist Boy’s School alumnus, commutes to his stall from his residence in Air Itam before dawn. “We wake up at around 5am every day and get here by 6am to freshly mix the batter – which consists of flour, eggs, sugar and coconut milk – and to prepare for the day.
“It usually takes about 15 minutes to get the charcoal fire going. When the fire is hot enough, we would place the chatti – the traditional clay pot used by Indians to cook all sorts of delicacies – on the brazier.” According to Ravindran, a chatti of decent quality can be used for about four months, after which it would need to be replaced.
Sai Ravindran's apom balik recipe calls for an egg to be cracked onto the apom while it is being cooked.
Ravindran prices his apom balik at RM4 for a set of five. “Despite the fluctuating price of sugar, eggs and coconut milk – which is quite expensive these days – we still manage to generate a fair amount of profit out of our business. All our ingredients are sourced locally from the wet markets, including banana leaves and charcoal.”
And with each generation, toppings du jour are added to the humble apom. Even so, many still stick to making authentic frills-free apom, which Ravindran says his older customers prefer.
“The version of apom balik in India tastes rather sour and is usually served with fresh coconut milk and brown sugar on the side for you to dip your apom. Sri Lankan appam tastes salty and is even served with curry,” Ravindran reveals. “It was during my father’s time that more and more of his customers asked for half-boiled eggs as a side dish to complement the apom, prompting him to modify the dish by incorporating eggs into it, which we continue to do today.
“Both my sons are selling apom, making them the third generation to carry on the business – one of them is selling at One Corner Cafe located on Jalan Bawasah, while the other sells at Pulau Tikus Market in the evening. They make enough for a living, and are also proud of continuing the family trade, which we see as part of our local history and heritage. We are truly an apom balik family!”