Apong Guan – one piece is never enough
This is something I have recently noticed about Uncle Ah Guan. He has always been great fun to chat with but on my recent visit one afternoon, although he was smiling and friendly, he was not his usual chatty self. I realised that age is catching up and grinding over the stove in the scorching tropical heat, day in and day out, which cannot be an easy task for him these days.
Come every Chinese New Year when I was younger, I can still vividly picture my kuih kapit-making days. My mum would prepare so much batter I would be slaving over the hot charcoal metre-long improvised stove with my siblings from sunrise to sundown. Some years, we even slaved through two straight days in a row throughout the weekend. In the night, when all was done and I had taken a long cool shower, I could feel the heat radiating from within my body. It was like being slowly sous-vide or slow-roasted. I can only imagine Uncle Ah Guan going through this every single day except of course on his off-days. Although he would have become used to this routine by now, I am certain such back-breaking labour could only be endured for a reason.
Why does he go through this for over half a century (since 1968 when he was 25 years of age)? Could he be comfortable in his set routine or is this the best way he knows how to fill up his time? Could it be because of his passionate love for making apong or does he enjoy the comfort and company of his customers? Could it be for fame and recognition or simply that this is the only way he knows how to make an honest living? It could also be all of the above or perhaps something more personal that should remain private.
That sunny afternoon has given me a different outlook on this aging apong maker. Since I brought along my camera, I had the opportunity to observe more during my usual pit-stop manoeuvre to purchase his famous apong. The way he spoons the santan-rich batter onto the 9-hole copper griddle, the great care he takes to control the fire and filling each apong with two slices of banana and creamed corn were almost like poetry in motion. He does not hurry. He takes his own sweet time to make the apong. When they are ready, he folds them equally into halves and gently places them on the rack to cool. The taste of his Nyonya-style pancake is scrumptious as always – soft and light with the aromatic fragrance of bananas and the subtle crunchy texture of grated coconut and sweet corn. These golden palm-size semicircle treats are not too sweet and have just the right amount of tender loving care.
Go ahead and sample a piece. One sure thing is that you would not just stop at one piece especially when they are freshly made.
Uncle Ah Guan is not an apong factory. Every piece is crafted by hand. Bring along with you tonnes of quiet patience and a bucket of cheer should you decide to drop by Apong Guan's stall. It would make his days better. Catch him in a jovial mood and he could sing for you, call you darling and even recite Hokkien poetry!
I have been eating Uncle Ah Guan's apong since my schooling days. His trusted helper – his lovely wife – used to be at his side. She is no longer there. He considered retiring when she passed away. I am happy that now in my 50s, I can still enjoy something from my childhood. Piping hot apongs from my hands into my mouth they go, always leaving me satisfied and smiling from ear to ear.
Uncle Ah Guan's full name is Uan Cheng Guan. His push-cart stall is along Jalan Burmah, right in front of Union Primary School.
Opens daily from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm except for Sundays.
T: +6016 409 3701
PS: Near Apong Guan is a white food truck from which his nephew, Max, is also selling apong. Max took over the business from his dad, Uan Cheng Chooi. Apom Chooi is also popular in Penang. Try the pandan-flavoured apongs. Apom Chooi is
closed on Mondays.
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
© All rights reserved
23 April 2019