Malay ‘kuih’ a waning tradition

National 4 minutes, 29 seconds


TRADITIONAL Malay kuih (cakes) are sold at stalls and served during special occasions and family gatherings, but how many Bruneian youths know how to make them?

It is not common to see Bruneian youth making Malay kuih, even rarer pursuing it as a career.

With more food options available compared to yesteryears, the demand for traditional delicacies has declined, resulting in lack of youth interest in mastering the skills of making conventional Malay kuih.

The elderly fear the limited number of youth involved in making kuih will eventually lead to the disappearance of traditional desserts that are part of Brunei’s cultural heritage.

Pg Hjh Rosinah Pg Hj Osman, a local entrepreneur selling traditional kuih, said getting youth interested in making traditional Malay desserts is difficult because they are unaware of the importance of preserving Malay delicacies.

“It’s uncommon that youth nowadays would want to master these skills and even if they do, the number is really limited.

“Even my own children do not want to learn how to make the kuih I sell such as seri muka (two-layered glutinuous rice cake), _talam lemak_manis, rangin and kuih linggang (rolled crepe filled with dessicated coconut), as they usually give excuses that they have no time and have other work and family commitments,” added the 56-year-old.

Having been taught by her mother to make traditional Malay desserts, Pg Hjh Rosinah said it would be a loss if Bruneians no longer know how to prepare traditional kuih.

“Nowadays there might still be these kuih out there, but sometimes you can already see they are different and declining in quality, which is why it is important to have youth learn the tradition of making these kuih-muih to sustain the tradition,” said Pg Hjh Rosinah.

Suraya Chuchu, a propagator of arts and culture from the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, said local Malay desserts in Brunei are divided into two categories - dry and wet.

Dry Malay kuih consists of bahulu (sponge cake), cincin (ring-shaped cake), sapit (wafer), ardam and penyaram (deep fried pastry).

Wet Malay kuih comes in various forms, colours and sizes, including kuih bingka (custard cake).

Suraya said said many of the traditional desserts are on the brink of disappearing such as samak and _kuih pengalaban _as they are a rare sight with only the elderly knowing how to make them.

“Some of the authentic traditional food that we used to have are very difficult to find nowadays. Our older generation used to make them, but this knowledge was not passed on to the young as not many youth want to inherit the skills and expertise,” she said.

It is not known to what extent traditional Malay kuih is being threatened by the popularity of other forms of desserts as there are no studies published online.

Norhani Hj Sawal, a chef who teaches the pastry and confectionaries course at the Youth Development Centre, said the younger generation prefers to learn about Western food.

“The youth usually prefer Western desserts. Even when I am teaching, I asked them about our traditional kuih such as kuripit, calak, or celurut, most of them did not know about these food, let alone how to make them,” said the 42-year-old.

Norhani, who was in charge of making Malay desserts for 18 years at Hyatt Borneo Management Services prior to her teaching career at the Youth Development Centre, said students taking the pastry and confectionaries course learn theories of kitchen safety while mastering cooking skills in six months.

“Aside from contemporary menus and desserts, students are required to master the skills of five local delicacies - bingka, wajid, kueh bom, linggang and sapit,” she said.

However, some of the students still prefer Western desserts such as cheesecake or red velvet as they are not used to the traditional kuih and were unfamiliar with their taste.

“I keep encouraging my students to learn and be familiar with Malay kuih by exposing them to these delicacies and asking them to try making them when we have the chance during our classes.

“It is going to be a loss if they don’t even know their own heritage as these kuih are part of Brunei’s cultural heritage,” she added.

Nastalina Nadia Arman Shah, 19, said she was excited to learn about making local delicacies at the Youth Development Centre, but she would still prefer to make Western desserts because of popular public demand.

“In the future, I don't think people would notice much of these traditional food anymore, people would go for Western ones.

“So if you put kuih linggang and tiramisu cake side by side, people would opt for the latter,” she added.

Normah Md Said, 56, a businesswoman selling local delicacies since 1983 in Brunei, said youth need to be exposed to traditional kuih from a young age before they can preserve the cultural heritage.

Prearing 30 to 40 types of local Malay kuih for her business at the Gadong night market every day, she said youth must first have the passion and determination before they can master the skills of making kuih.

She said schools can be more proactive by conducting workshops on traditional Malay desserts.

“During school term holidays, primary and secondary schools should bring their students to visit experts who make conventional desserts.

“Because if we can’t make our younger generation interested in preserving this tradition, who else will?”

The Brunei Times