Di Bawoh Rang Ikang Kering
Random Ramblings of A Retired Retainer


Thursday, December 23, 2004

I am sure all of you have come across onde-onde or buah melaka. Some of you might have had unfortunate accidents with this bobby-trap of a Malaysian tea kuih at one time or the other. If you unwittingly sink your teeth into a freshly boiled, deceptively cool on the outside onde-onde, you will get a mouthful of hot nissang (gula melaka) scalding your palate and tongue. Worse, the nissang will dribble down your expensive shirt/ blouse/dress or squirt the nearest bystander.

I wish I can advise you on the safe way to demolish hot onde-onde but the subject today is the nissang a.k.a. gula melaka alias moulded coconut sugar, the heart and filling of the onde-onde.

For the sweet nissang, we are indebted to our friends in high places. To wit, high up the coconut tree (ok, palm, if you insist). In Terengganu, these friends are called Tok Nyadat without having to pay a single kepeng for the Datokship. Tok Nyadats are usually sun burnt, muscular and thin. I have never seen a pale, flabby and overweight Tok Nyadat so far. They are not prone to altophobia or vertigo and have a high tolerance for kerengge (big red ants) or other pesky pests that lurk in the coconut fronds. Their job is to climb the coconut trees (one at a time), collect the coconut sap, come down again and make nissang out of the collected sap, called tuak in Terengganu or nira somewhere else. In India it is called neera before it becomes toddy. In some parts of the Philippines, the sap is similarly collected and turned into an alcoholic drink- the tuba, the same name as the juice that we Malaysians get from certain root to make fish drunk.

A Young Tok Nyadat Doing His Thing

In Malaysia as it is in Indonesia, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Fiji or wherever coconut trees (ok, palms) are abundant and fully utilized, the sap is collected by cutting (saddat in Terengganu) unopened flower buds (inflorescence, if you want to nit-pick
) of the coconut tree (ok, ok, palm) with a special knife (the penyadat or sadap in standard Bahasa). A container is used to collect the slow flowing sap for each bud. In Terengganu, all Tok Nyadats use tukir, a cylindrical container with a diameter of about 3 inches made out of bamboo cut to about 18 inches long. Enough to hold about a gallon of tuak. Inside the tukir, the Tok Nyadat will add small chips of wood, usually chengal, called laru. The laru, I suspect, is to preserve the tuak from going bad and also to add flavour. Different laru will give a different taste. The tukir is left overnight and collected the next day.

After collecting all his filled tukir and cursing the occasional kerengge, our Tok Nyadat will go home where there is a big shed (usually with not more than one wall) within spitting distance. Inside, there is a table or a shelf lined with a plain yellow mengkuang mat. There is also a big wide pot (kawoh) that always makes me think of a WWII British soldier's helmet turned upside down, only bigger. Into this kawoh, the Tok Nyadat will pour the content of his tukirs, straining the liquid with a piece of fine muslin to catch the kerengge or other interlopers. Then the liquid is boiled for a few hours with the occasional stirrings. Soon water will evaporate leaving a golden thick liquid. The liquid is ladled into rings about the size of tea cup saucers. The rings are made from half an inch wide strips of pandanus leaf joined at the ends. These rings are called kerek (pronounced like care rack). They are laid out neatly beforehand on the mat on the shelf or table waiting to be filled with the hot mush. The liquid sugar soon cool and harden into cakes, the nissang. If you look underneath each cake of nissang, you can see the imprint of the mengkuang mat patterns. If you see imprint of auto tyres, sole patterns of Timberland boots or other suspicious design, be careful. The nissang might not be genuine.

Think about this the next time you sputter on your onde-onde.

| 12:01 AM :: ::
39 CommentsOldStyle:
  • erm, can't help but think that maybe you are secretly a Tok Nyadat..ya ka Pok Ku?

    By Blogger hyphenated L, at 12:32 AM  
  • LOL! I wish I can climb coconut trees. The view would be fantastic.

    By Blogger Bustaman, at 12:38 AM  
  • Salams Pok Ku,

    Nice Sweet post sir!

    Over in Pahang, we have something similar called Gula Kabung. Method of making is similar to gula melaka or Nissang Ganu, But from the Kabung Tree(Tried Googling it nothing yet substantial, esok maybe). Usage not unlike both that you have mentioned. What is unique though is how it is packaged. It is circular in shape, like a disc, circumference about 7-8cm with thickness about 1cm . Two pieces are wrapped together and the wrapper used is nipah leaves. Quite an art form. I think i have some in the fridge, but since its downstairs and my camera USB cable is missing, I post it later.

    Okay, again nice one sir.

    By Blogger Sham, at 1:07 AM  
  • Pok ku,

    This here is my first comment on ur blog, though I've been an ardent fan for a while (*smiles*). I love onde-onde although fervently wishing that there is an ISO standard on its size. Curious though pok ku do you know Why is gula Melaka called gula Melaka?


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:53 AM  
  • I prefer the Kelantan and terengganu size of onde-onde.Sometimes, I found big onde-onde the size of hand bomb in KL.

    Btw, I don't think my son who was born and bred in KL will know what is a 'tukir'.

    Thanks for Pak Ku for the posting.It reminds me when I was small-waiting at the bangsal for 'kerak' nissang.

    By Blogger Berisman, at 4:51 AM  
  • During our student days abroad, we use brown sugar to make onde-onde when nissang is in short supply but nothing beats the original nissang.

    A good piece of info Pok Ku. TQ!

    By Blogger Jane Johan, at 7:19 AM  
  • Mula-mula tengok title post tadi mati-mati saya ingat nissang tu kereta 'Nissan' di Terengganu. Rupanya gula melaka.

    By Blogger Aku Tak Reti, at 9:21 AM  
  • ahhh reminds me of the days in Merang, sitting in that small shed where that old woman made nissang.(I should say "arwah old-woman". I think we called her 'Tok' or something.. the one who took care of Tepok).
    Can still remember the smell of cooking Nira. I am always amazed to see how it could turn out to be so likat and brown and so yummy.

    Tricks to eating onde-onde:
    1. Choose small ones.
    2. Give it a light squeeze to gauge the consistency and temperature of its fillings. Some fillings can feel like 'seketul'.
    3. If you deem it is safe, pop the whole thing in your mouth. Make sure your lips are sealed tight before it 'pops'.

    wahhh now have to go look for onde-onde already..

    By Blogger elisataufik, at 9:22 AM  
  • Onde-onde... Oh, my mouth gets watery already..... Yumm...

    By Blogger hana_kirana, at 9:26 AM  
  • Emmm. Onde-Onde memang sedap. Pok Ku puteri mandi pun guna nissang dok? (capor nyor). --md

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:37 AM  
  • Salams Pokku :) Every morning.. wondering.. apa cite Pokku ari ni gamoknye? Smlm ada link for Tan Sri Adam rtikel about nasi dagang..agak2 mesti Pokku nok cite pasal makanan. My instinct is right..hehehehhe.. Onde2 atau we all call it kuih "kekoh-ca" sbb biler gigit tubik air nissang..'ca' (susoh nok eja nie)dok pong ngecik ngate rawa.... How about Teri (Puteri) Mandi ? sama ngan onde2 ke Pokku? Teri Mandi ni mesti kebal giler..sbb ia mandi air panas gelegok dok melecur sikit ponG !!!
    hehehehhe.. :) Good Day

    By Blogger ceklong, at 9:40 AM  
  • favourite kueh esp bulan poso...memang size kat kl besar skit (so that they can sell 5 for RM1.) lepas tu susoh nok masuk mulut sebab besar sangat...nissang ni (or nisse for kelantanese) tok berapo suko teri mandi sebab manih leting tapi suko butir nako...heheeeeee

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:54 AM  
  • salute!

    By Blogger yatot, at 10:49 AM  
  • Pok Ku, air tuak or nira is my father's favourite drink Ramadhan, as for nissang, East Coast has a thin one, but in Kuala Kangsar, the nissang is quite thick and wrapped with some sort of leaves (I'm not sure what kind of leaves is that but it looks like sugarcane's leaves). Though it's quite thick, but it's not hard as KL's nissang and certainly as nice as our East Coast's nissang...by the way onde-onde is mostly everybody's favourite kuih...

    By Blogger OneEE, at 10:56 AM  
  • wah, Pok Ku mesti buat banyak kajian eh? penulisan yang best sekali. air liuh Buaya masih meleleh - tak henti henti! ish ish ish... ;)

    By Blogger Buaya69, at 11:24 AM  
  • Now they even sell those mini nissang kat Pasor Keda Payang. My boss never miss kirim-ing those everytime I go home.

    Kalau kat kedai kuih near Jln Panji Alam tu, the onde-onde is still 10 for RM1.

    By Blogger lion3ss, at 11:28 AM  
  • Good one..PokKu!
    Nissang is a no.1 item that always appear on my 'bring-back-item..heheh..be it big or small size..cam itemised billing gitu, everytime my trip back home.

    Ohh..how I miss Teri-mandi...

    By Blogger zaireen, at 11:52 AM  
  • i knew you will be posting something about food after that link i posted yesterday. hehe....

    i wonder if you can post something about satar. i cant seem to find any shop selling them in KL.

    now i need to find onde-onde fast ! dah terliur dah ni. :)

    again, great entry Pok Ku.

    - joe -

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:29 PM  
  • Pokku, you have managed to make me crave for an onde-onde already! Where to find here in the boondocks! :)


    By Blogger Leen Ash Burn, at 1:26 PM  
  • Salam Pok ku, your article reminds me of one teka teki. Q:Buah apa kalau masak tak jatuh, tapi naik ke atas? A: Buah Melaka. exMRSMKTN

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:18 PM  
  • Firstly Pokku is Nissang misinterpret with Nissan Car. Do you think today's nissang is as good as old nissang? I love the nissang 'keroks', always waiting with 'ppurung nyor' , queue for my turn. Sometimes can get some some time very few depend on how many kids were around (hahaha very nostalgic). Did 'nissang siam' was made as same as how they make it in Terengganu?. My mother always said " Jangang makang nissang siang , dia celup bewok tu", every time she caught me sneaking for the nissang in my mother kitchen, but why she bought it anyway? She always hide the small kerek nissang somewhere else, because this size of nissang can be easily hide in pocket. Hahaha. Kacik-cha, onde-onde, teri mandi and one more lopat tikang required a nissang in order to complete the dish.
    You make me miss nissang very much right here. Have to call back home to ask someone send me right away. arghhhhhhh!

    Pelajar Lapuk

    By Blogger striker, at 3:41 PM  
  • i LURVE ondeh2..! i bought 20 ondeh-ondeh with only 2ringgit at pasir puteh, during my 'balek kg' trip last raya..but i can only get 6 ondeh-ondeh (plus less nisang inside also) at pasar keramat with the same amount of money..a little 'cekik darah' u know buying fuds in KL..

    By Blogger najwa ab patah, at 4:01 PM  
  • sham:
    I think what you saw was another palm sugar, the gula kabong.

    Welcome to the gang. I have no idea why gula melaka is called thus.

    Aaah! Memories! Kerak nissang was a sweet treat for us kids too.

    Nissang travels and keeps well in good tabung. We should export some.


    The lady was Tok Mek Som. Good guide to eating onde-onde!

    You can make your own , can't you?

    Yes! We miss all those kiuh.

    LOL! Kekoh ca is a good name.

    Butir nako ni lemok, dok gitu?

    Thank you!

    Ifit looks like the big aromatheraphy candle, it is probably the "gula kabong" made from nipah palam. The leaves would be nipah leaves.

    Buaya69: I observed and I remembered. No reasearch.

    lioness: Mini nissang could be from Thailand.

    I have not seen teri mandi for ages.

    satar is confined to Terengganu and fresh fish is needed I think.

    Awww! Come out soon.

    LOL! Thanks for the riddle.

    Today's nissang can have sugar added. You can taste the diference. Some add thai nissang just to stretch their profit.

    Food is always expensive in KL. Doh nak wat guane.

    By Blogger Bustaman, at 5:06 PM  
  • I think 'Kato' is its close cousin with exception nissang is on the outside. Tastes so yummy and you don't have to worry about any explosions... The best one I found so far is somewhere near Kedai Tumpat. The lady cuts her Kato with a pair of scissors and her 'lopat tike' is equally good.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:28 AM  
  • PokKu- My grandfather was a Tok Saddat ( No relation to the late President Anwar Saddat). He was blind . I was told that while he was paddling the nissang in the kawoh something got into his eyes and he was blinded. When I was a little boy we used tobring him to the coconut palm and asked him to get some young coconuts and he usually obliged us. One day we brought him to a coconut tree that was full of the red ants ( kerrenge) and he touched and tapped the trunk and smiled and said "ehhh I am not to climd this tree because there are a lot of kerrenge here. ( Therer are a lot of kerengge in Trengganu and they stack on each other ( like the film ANTZ)and formed the Pulau Kerengge!!
    What I remeber is to put small pieces of leaves besides the moulding mat and we get the small drip from th epaddle and that formed our kampung sweets ( besides pulled sugar - gula tarik). I remeber for the laru my grandfather put the chipped tembusu. Perhaps you forgotto mention that the nira is also made into vinegar. When the nira turned mad ( nira gila) it twirls round and round in the sealed pot and then you get your natural vinegar. Well, if you leave it longer then you get the toddy. One interesting thing is that how the bamboo tukir are carried on the hips. The kain batik lepas is tied to the waist and there is a hook made of buffalo horns which is slipped into it( like the javanese carrying their kris at the back) and one bundle of tukirs will be hanging on it. When the Tok Nyadat walk or climb the coconut palm the sound of the tukirs knocking each other is very musical. Another interesting thing is when the kawoh ( big wok) is carried onto the moulding mat , he will do it alone by holding the edge of the kawoh with two hands with the coconut husk (not the big glove) and the stomach with a thick apron is used to support the third edge of the wok. My grandfathers nissang was very famous "Nissang Kerek Tok Chang Nombo Waong (Manisan Kerek Tok Hassan Number One) sekali makang nok sokmo. Hidup Nissang Gganung Kite !!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:51 PM  
  • Is onde-onde and buah melaka the same thing?

    By Blogger Kok Bi, at 3:07 PM  
  • Onde onde is small and buah melaka is a bit bigger or is it the ther way round. Anyway they have the same difference

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:11 PM  
  • Mallard:
    Not familkiar with kato but I will try it the next time I am in Tumpat. Lopat tikang, YES!!!

    By Blogger Bustaman, at 6:57 PM  
  • Anonymous at 2:51 pm:
    Wow! Your grandfather is great! Making nissang is an art. Nowadays the art is dying.

    By Blogger Bustaman, at 6:59 PM  
  • Bibi & Anon:
    Generally buah melaka and onde-ondeh are one and the same. But over in Perak side, onde-onde is the round kuih with the sesame seed covered skin.

    By Blogger Bustaman, at 7:01 PM  
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  • ermm..ondeh2 = buah melaka. Back home we used to call it ' buah kacik caar'..as you kacik (bite) with your teeth, 'caaar!' the nissang will spurt out and hit out at anything around it.

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