Vividly colourful layer cakes (“kek lapis” in Malay) are a specialty of Sarawak. During our three days in Kuching, we see bakeries and pop-up stalls selling layer cakes everywhere we go. They’re eye-catchingly bright, in technicolour and a mind-boggling array of flavours.
On our third and final afternoon in Kuching we visit a layer cake bakery named Maria Kek Lapis. We step into the small shop and I’m sure my eyes are sparkling with delight at the rainbow of layer cakes ready for us to sample.
Maria Kek Lapis produces 42 flavours of layer cake. I particularly like the sound of pandan Oreo, Chocolate Horlick [sic], durian and chocolate pandan. Not so sure about Milo belacan, but I’d give it a go!
I’ve seen and eaten layer cake before (one of my cousins makes layer cake every Chinese New Year), but never so colourful as the ones in Kuching.
After tasting the buttery moist layer cake, we crowd into the hot tiny kitchen to see how it is made.
Shop proprietor Maria is softly spoken but clearly enjoys her work. She explains the process in a mixture of English and Malay (our guide Tra from MATRADE kindly translates).
The colourful cake batters are made using different pastes with flavours such as pandan, chocolate, peppermint, strawberry, watermelon, orange and mango, and products such as Horlicks and Milo. Batter is added to the tray and baked layer by layer. Each layer takes only 4 or 5 minutes to cook but there are many layers per cake, normally up to 20 layers. The special oven only cooks from the top (more like grilling/broiling) so that with the addition of each new layer, the rest of the layers won’t end up dry and overcooked.
We watch a masam-manis (sour-sweet) layer cake being made. The “sour-sweet” comes from the addition of haw flakes.
It’s a tight, sweaty squeeze for us to fit into the kitchen. I wish I could squeeze around Maria for a better angle, but I don’t want to get in her way while she works.
I ask Maria what her best-selling flavours are – she tells me Horlicks and sweet and sour. She tells us there is great demand for layer cakes at festive times of year, such as Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Christmas.
It’s a cute little shop with beautiful cakes and well worth a visit.
Maria now invites us for refreshments at her cafe nearby, Maria Desserts House. I’m quite excited about this as we’ve driven past Maria Desserts House a few times in the past two days and I’ve wanted to check it out.
Outside Maria Desserts House, Maria has her own pop-up stall selling layer cakes.
Maria Desserts House sells more than desserts. You can buy pastries, cakes and hot and cold drinks, but also soft boiled eggs and toast or fried eggs and sausage for breakfast, and local favourites such as Sarawak laksa, nasi lemak with beef rendang or chicken curry, and chicken chop with black pepper. You can get not-so traditional fare like pizza, french fries, cheese burger and garlic steak.
We start with drinks. I’ve got a cold Sarawak honey lemon (RM3). It’s sweet and refreshing.
The traditional milky iced coffee (RM3) is topped with a swirl of cream and chocolate syrup.
The Sarawak hot lemon (RM3) is a comforting brew.
Maria orders a selection of hot dishes cooked fresh to order for us. First, a plate of fried noodles with chicken and bean sprouts. The noodles are wonderfully saucy with a delicious charry hot wok flavour.
Coming out with the noodles is a plate of freshly grilled corn on the cob. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to finish a whole cob but I can’t resist grabbing one and munching on the sweet juicy kernels.
We also receive a dish of thin rice noodles fried with egg, prawns and bean sprouts. It’s charry and peppery and really tasty, a great lunch dish.
It’s a great little cafe and would be a nice place to hang out with your mates over drinks and some tasty home-style cooking and baked treats.
Maria Desserts House
37 Main Bazaar
93000 Kuching, Sarawak
I will soon be saying good-bye to Kuching. I’m impressed by how much we’ve packed into three days and I’ll be a little sad to leave.
I brought home two layer cakes for Juji. Read all about it at her blog post Maria Kek Lapis
Read the posts in my Kuching Trip 2011 series
It’s taken a while to get here, but we’re almost at the end!
I’m also blogging about my Sydney trip and posting about eating around Perth too.
In the lead up to Christmas, check my other blog The LEGO woman as a new LEGO City Advent Calendar item is revealed each day.