One more with filling
More new outlets are selling peanut-filled pancakes. But new is not necessarily better
By Teo Pau Lin, 03 April 2005
MING jiang kueh, the peanut-filled pancake from the days of our grandparents, has been enjoying a revival of late.
THIS TAKES THE PANCAKE : Tiong Bahru's Raymond Kua offers pancakes which are crispy on the outside and have a fragrant peanut filling
LifeStyle estimates that there are more than 70 outlets selling the old-fashioned snack islandwide, and more than half of them popped up less than five years ago.
The latest cake on the block is Pin Le, which has planted a kiosk in Thomson Plaza's food hall. The chain will be opening a second outlet in Orchard Cineleisure this week.
Set up by the same people behind the trendy Thai Express chain of cafe-style Thai food, Pin Le sells soya drinks, traditional Chinese desserts like almond, black sesame and walnut cream, and ming jiang kueh.
Says director Ivan Lee, 30: 'We're moving into takeaway products that are healthy and Asian. We see tremendous potential in it.'
His kiosks are decked in trendy dark wood, and freshly made logs of ming jiang kueh are displayed in sleek glass cases.
He already has two outlets in Shanghai, with another three to be up and running here in Suntec City, Shenton Way and People's Park within two months.
Another chain, Ah Gu, has grown from a humble stall in Clementi Central to a 15-outlet franchise in five years.
Owner Joshua Lam, 28, who offers a recipe concocted by his wife, aims to plant another six outlets across foodcourts and kopitiams islandwide by the end of the year.
Mr Jack Chin, managing director of the 32-outlet Pancake King chain, is not surprised that the snack has gained such a foothold among foodies here.
'It's the same reason I started the chain. I'm a big fan. Ming jiang kueh has a combination of crispy, soft and crunchy textures, which can get very addictive,' says Mr Chin, 37, who also has five outlets in Malaysia.
His is the only chain that offers a money-back guarantee to customers who are dissatisfied with his product.
Singaporeans love their ming jiang kueh so much that very few customers have returned for a refund, he says.
It was a different story when he opened his first outlet seven years ago.
'Most youngsters didn't know what ming jiang kueh was. It was a disappearing food,' he recalls.
Widely known to have originated from China's Guangdong province, the snack was brought by Chinese immigrants to places like Singapore, Sabah, Penang and Jakarta from the turn of the 20th century.
Translated literally, ming jiang kueh is Teochew for 'flour pan-fried cake'. It is pronounced as mang chang kueh in Hokkien.
Pancake King's Mr Chin, a Sabah native who grew up eating ming jiang kueh, helped revive the snack with his fast-growing franchise chain here.
But money-back offers and sleek kiosk designs aside, how does the new breed of ming jiang kueh actually taste?
Done the old-fashioned way, the new chains cook their pancakes fresh on the spot using big, round iron pans.
Then, they spread on the peanut and sugar filling, flip half of the pancake over, and cut it into slices.
But unlike some of the old stalls, modern versions get their peanut filling pre-made by suppliers. Many also whip the peanut brittle into a thick paste.
While this peanut butter-like texture allows you to eat with less mess, its sticky consistency means you have to work harder on chewing.
LifeStyle pitted four pancake chains against the famous 40-year-old Tiong Bahru Mian Jian Kueh stall in Tiong Bahru market, and found that the newbies put up no fight.
Manned by third-generation hawker Raymond Kua, 39, the Tiong Bahru stall offers pancakes which are crispy on the outside and wonderfully light.
His filling, which is made of sugar and finely ground peanuts, is very fragrant. He roasts and grinds the peanuts at the stall himself, using machines that were made by his retired father 20 years ago.
In the case of ming jiang kueh, experience still trumps finesse.
Tiong Bahru Mian Jian Kueh
Block 2A, Kim Pong Road
Tiong Bahru Market
Opens: 6am to noon, closed on Mondays
Perfectly done, it is wonderfully light, fragrant and - the feature that takes the pancake - boasts a thin layer of crisp on the outside which is not found in the other versions. Hawker Raymond Kua roasts and grinds the peanuts at the stall using machines that were constructed by his now-retired father 20 years ago.
32 outlets islandwide
Opens: 7am to 10pm, or 7am to 5pm daily, depending on location
60 cents or 70 cents, depending on location
The pancake is soft and well-cooked. While the peanut filling is prepared by suppliers, it is thankfully not whipped into a paste. This means it is lighter on the tongue. Chain owner Jack Chin's recipe is culled from his wife's relatives in Penang.
14 outlets islandwide
Opens: 6am to 10pm daily
The pancake is thick yet moist. It also comes with a generous slab of peanut paste which is not too cloying. Chain owner Joshua Lam uses an egg-less recipe that was concocted by his wife.
Food hall in Thomson Plaza
Opens: 9.30am to 9.30pm daily
Neatly cut and presented, the pancake is soft and well-cooked. But the peanut paste is a little too thick and sticky. Placed in individual plastic bags, each kueh is easy on the hands, but alas, a little tough on the lips.
24 outlets islandwide
Opens: Around 9am to 9pm daily, depending on location
It offers a big, chunky portion. But the pancake is too thick and slightly rubbery. The peanut paste is also too heavy on the tongue. The chain also offers other fillings like red bean, corn and cheese. But it is small compensation when the pancake texture is this tough.