That was a nursery rhyme I once knew when I was a kid. It means ‘Serabi, Serabi! Who wants to buy?’ A line yelled by someone who was selling Serabi.
Anthony Bourdain of No Reservation loved Serabi so much when he was visiting Garut, West Java. The Serabi was delivered to him every morning by a man paddling a small wooden boat yelling, "Serabi, Serabi!" Bourdain refered to it as pancake, "I love the pancake man!" he proclaimed when the Serabi man was approaching.
I went to Jakarta Culinary Walks the other day–a cultural event held by JakartaWalks group–and I, too, loved the pancake lady there. Not to undervalue other Batavian culinary treasures taking part in that festival–Rujak Bebek, Fried Bean Sprout, Uduk Rice, Sengkulun, Talam Ebi, Bir Pletok, Ginger Coffee, Batavian Laksa, Batavian Noodle Soto, Kerak Telor–that were all oh-so-good, I had to say my heart set on Serabi. And Serabi was all that I can think of on the way home, even days after.
Surely you can refer Serabi as Indonesian pancake. It boasts the crispiness coming from rice flour, softness from wheat flour–sometimes combined with tapioca or sago flour–all the wonderful quality of coconut milk, the lightness brought by the yeast, blended altogether in the heavenly aroma of firewood and burning pottery. In this modern day, yeast is often replaced by baking soda or baking powder and metal pan substitutes the old pottery. However, it tastes way much better if cooked using pottery. Trust me on this. The crust will be perfect, the smell.. distinctively amazing. No metal pan can compete with it.
The kinca syrup, now we’re talking. Coconut sugar, coconut milk, pandan leaves, sometimes chopped durian or nangka will enrich the already very rich syrup. They also sometimes omit the coconut milk to give a lighter texture. Oh, the syrup is what binds everything together into a very comforting sweet delight! It even successfully made Bourdain think of his regular maple syrup as old and boring. I couldn’t help but agree though. I love maple syrup very much, but kinca is definitely something else.
So, there I was, joyfully nibbling Serabi by the Babakan Lake (Setu Babakan), while the Kecapi tree, Belimbing tree, and other local old trees were kindly sheltering my head from the mean Jakarta sun, the gentle wind was fooling around with the leaves and my scarf. I was thinking how amazing that I can renew my respect toward this messy city, with only a little help from a modest pleasure called: Serabi.
There are so many Serabi recipes I’ve seen. I tried some of them, and I came to one conclusion: it will only be as good as it should be, if it is cooked using the pottery, that is small clay wok, not the modern pan. Of course the Serabi is still good, but I’m talking about rustic good that might not be able to compare with anything other than the rustic way itself.
So, use any recipe you can find, plenty of them on the net. For best result, use clay wok. If you live in southeastern asia area, you know where to find it.
Here, I gave you a recipe from a book written by Yasa Boga, titled Kue-Kue Indonesia. It has two recipes of Serabi. I picked the simpler one, yet rustic enough, because you use candle nut oil to grease the wok, taken from freshly grounded candle nuts.
Source: Kue-Kue Indonesia by Yasa Boga
250 gr rice flour
150 gr grated coconut from half of rather young coconut
1/2 tsp salt
600 ml light coconut milk
1-2 candle nuts, finely ground until it exctracts its natural oil, to grease the wok
Coconut Milk Sauce:
500 ml coconut milk from 1 coconut
200 gr coconut sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 sheets pandan leaves, tear, tie up in one knot
- Mix together rice flour, grated coconut and salt with your bare hand, while pouring the coconut milk a little at a time, until all blended well. Beat the batter with your palm for about 10 to 15 minutes until the batter feels light and soft.
- Preheat the clay wok until very hot. Wrap the grounded candle nuts with a sheet of thin cloth, like muslin, and use it to grease the wok.
- Spoon 3-4 Tbsp of batter into the wok. Cook uncovered until it bubbles up and holes are formed on the surface. Cover the wok, continue cooking until done. Take out the cooked Serabi from wok. Serve with coconut milk sauce.
- Coconut milk sauce:
Boil together coconut milk, coconut sugar, salt and pandan leaves while stirring it continuosly to prevent separation. When it reaches boiling point, turn off the heat and let it cool. Serve over anything!