Friday, 9 March 2018

Pan Ji Sak Kei Ma. Chinatown Complex Food Centre Green Zone 潘記殺騎馬

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

Sak Kei Ma 殺騎馬 is a traditional Chinese pastry made of fried dough crisps held together with maltose and sugar syrup. The once ubiquitous sweet snack popular with children, is now more a nostalgic reminder for adults who enjoyed it during their childhood. With dwindling demand in Singapore, there's perhaps only one place left that still makes Sak Kei Ma the traditional way - at Pan Ji Cooked Food in Chinatown Complex stall #02-078.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

Sak Kei Ma originated in northeastern China. The Manchurians call it Sachima which means "to cut and arrange". These tasty ancient energy giving bars powered the Manchu Army as they conquered Ming China in the 1600s. As the Manchurian snack spread across China, it became part of Chinese diet. Sachima is transliterated into many Chinese languages such as 沙琪瑪 / 薩其馬 etc. In Guangdong, Sachima is transliterated as 殺騎馬 in Cantonese which in turn is transliterated back into English as Sak Kei Ma.

The version of Sachima in Singapore (and Malaysia) was brought to Nanyang by Cantonese migrants from Guangdong, hence it is known here as 殺騎馬.

殺騎馬-Sak-Kei-Ma
Manchu Emperor Qianlong

There are various theories on why the Cantonese named Sachima, 殺騎馬 which literally means "kill the horseman" - a strange name for a crispy sweet. Some speculated that it was named by punters at Hong Kong horse races for good luck. That's not very convincing, if you ask me. Another theory has it that a chef created the sweet snack for a General 殺, naming it 殺騎馬 in his honour. This is even more implausible. Was there ever a General 殺 or anyone with the surname 殺, for that matter.

If I am allowed to speculate, it may have something to do with rebellious Cantonese of the time, reminding themselves that Sachima came from the hated northern horsemen who violently ended the (once) glorious Ming Dynasty, hence "kill the horseman". It might have been a form of passive aggression by the Cantonese under Manchu rule, and the quaint name remained. But, there is no evidence of this.

I shall look out for the correct answer.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

The block of Sak Kei Ma is fried dough crisps held together by maltose. The maltose softened the crisps a little but there is still a bit of crispy crunch. The pastry felt gummy and tacky from the maltose and is slightly greasy as the dough crisps are deep fried in oil.

The flavour is sugary sweet with a subtle underlying egginess and savouriness. Lard is sometimes used for additional flavour (Pan Ji doesn't used lard). Sak Kei Ma can be quite addictive once you acquired a taste for it.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

Pan Ji Cooked Food in Chinatown Complex Food Centre stall #02-078 is the only place that I know of in Singapore that still hand makes Sak Kei Ma.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

Stall owner Poon Sum Hay was one of the original stall holders that were moved from the streets of Kreta Ayer to Chinatown Complex in 1983. Mr. Poon's father from Samsui, Guangdong founded Pan Ji 潘記 in the 1950s and it was located at the intersection of Sago Street and South Bridge Road. Born in 1956, Mr. Poon has been working at Pan Ji since he was a child.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

I've heard comments before that Pan Ji's pastries are pricey and I had even thought so myself too. But, after seeing the amount of skill and dedication Mr. Poon had to put in to hand make his Sak Kei Ma, I now feel that it is the fair price for artisanal food. A batch of Sak Kei Ma, for example, has to be made over two days.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

On day one of the process, Mr. Poon kneads eggs and wheat flour into dough and rolls them into thin sheets. He then cuts them into little ribbons (like short stubby thick noodles) which he tosses and loosens before deep frying them.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

The dough ribbons are deep fried in oil to a golden brown crisp.

The crisps are then allowed to cool and rest overnight.

End of day one. "Come back at 9am tomorrow" Mr. Poon said 😂

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

The first thing, the next morning was to make the maltose and sugar syrup.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

The boiling hot maltose is poured into the bucket full of golden brown fried dough ribbons.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

Tossing the dough crisps with a wooden paddle to mix in the maltose thoroughly.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

Manually stirring and mixing the dough crisps and maltose is seriously heavy work.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

The dough crisps well coated with maltose and sugar syrup is poured into a large shallow tray.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

Mr. Poon spread the dough crisps evenly in the tray and compact it by pressing down hard on the flat of a chopper blade.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

When the dough crisps are packed tight and firm in the tray, Mr. Poon turned the tray over, emptying the heavy slab of Sak Kei Ma onto the table.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

The Sak Kei Ma ready for cutting into small blocks and served to waiting customers.

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

👉 Sixty year old Pan Ji Cooked Food stall in Chinatown Complex is probably the only place in Singapore that still makes Sak Kei Ma by hand. If you are in Chinatown, do drop by stall 02-078 in the Green Zone and you may catch Mr. Poon in action. It's a vanishing heritage craft in Singapore, so don't miss it.

Directory of stalls in the Yellow Zone 👈 click
Directory of stalls in the Green Zone 👈 click
Directory of stalls in the Red Zone 👈 click
Directory of stalls in the Blue Zone 👈 click

Chinatown-Pan-Ji-Sak -Kei-Ma-潘記殺騎馬

Restaurant name: Pan Ji Cooked Food 潘記殺騎馬
Address: Blk 335, Smith Street #02-078, Chinatown Food Complex, Singapore 050335 (Green Zone)   
GPS: 1°16'57.7"N 103°50'34.4"E | 1.282705, 103.842889
Waze: Chinatown Complex
Hours: 9:30am to 2:30pm

Non Halal

Date visited: 8 & 9 Mar 2018



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1 comment:

  1. Mun Fei said on Johor Kaki Blog FB page: Thank you Tony for introducing this uncle's shop.

    I love watching him make what i would call, artisan sai kei ma, from scratch. A small-built man with fingers missing from his left hand, doing all the painstaking physical work by himself (sometimes his friend helps him out) earnestly earning his own living.

    His sai kei ma does cost more than those sold at supermarkets which I think are mass produced, but i think his tastes much better..

    caution based on my observation- he does not really like people touching his handmade products if they are not buying so please be respectful :)

    ReplyDelete

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