Johor Kaki Travels for Food

Tony Boey johorkaki@gmail 🇸🇬 Singapore based food history researcher

History of Kompia & Kway Chap. Culinary Legacy of Ming Dynasty General Qi Ji Guang 戚繼光

Qi_Ji_Guang_戚繼光

What do kompia and kway chap have in common? Both are once military rations credited to general Qi Ji Guang (1528 - 1588) of China's Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644).

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General Qi Ji Guang 戚繼光 was appointed Assistant Regional Military Commissioner in 1553 responsible for Shandong's coastal defence. The main threat came from 倭寇 or Japanese pirates. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

In 1555, Gen Qi was sent south to Zhejiang province to deal with the Japanese pirates there. For the next few years, the Japanese pirate problem got worst and spread to Fujian province and its northern border with Guangzhou. Gen Qi finally defeated the Japanese pirates in 1665.

His mission in China's southern coasts accomplished, Gen Qi was called to defend China's northern frontiers against the Mongols. Gen Qi repelled numerous Mongol attacks.

Gen Qi was relieved of command in 1583 after the emperor was convinced by Qi's enemies that the general was plotting to usurp his throne. Qi died in 1588 in obscurity in his hometown in Shandong province.

Kway_Chap_Qi_Ji_Guang_戚繼光


When planning to march his troops south from Shandong to Zhejiang and Fujian to meet the Japanese pirates, Gen Qi was looking for comfort food which keep well and was easy to transport.

Qi stumbled across an old lady making making ding bian hu 鼎边糊. It was a gruel of milled rice spread on the outer edge of a wok which seared it into a tissue thin rice sheet. The old lady then fold and cut the dry rice sheet into squares. Dry ding bian hu can be kept for a long time, easy to carry and can be eaten by simply soaking it in hot water. For flavour, ding bian hu was eaten with preserved meat and vegetables.


This was exactly the combat ration general Qi was looking for for his soldiers.


Kway_Chap_Qi_Ji_Guang_戚繼光

In Singapore today, ding bian hu is the precursor of "kway" in kway chap. Kway chap is thin rice sheets in a bowl of soupy sauce eaten with sides of pork, intestines, skin, egg, tofu etc stewed in soy sauce and spices.


Kway chap is still a popular dish in Singapore today but its history is not often told.

Kompia_Qi_Ji_Guang_戚繼光

During the campaign against Japanese pirates in Fujian province, Qi realised that the enemy knew the whereabouts of his troops because of the smoke from cooking fires.


So Qi created an unleavened baked bread with a hole in the middle so that soldiers can string several pieces together and carry the bread with them. The unleavened bread keep well and doesn't require cooking before eating.


With this bread, Qi's troops were able to close in on the pirates and launch surprise attacks on them.


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The unleavened bread is called Guang Bing 光饼 in general Qi's honour. In Malaysia today, Guang Bing is known as kompia or kompyang. Kompia now comes with char siew fillings, stewed minced pork, kaya (coconut jam) or no fillings. They often don't come with a hole in the middle nowadays.


In Malaysia, Kompia is found in places where there is a Fuzhou community e.g. Yong Peng (Johor state) and Sibu (Sarawak state). In Johor, you can get kompia at Taman Ungku Tun Aminah and at Eng Hin bakery in Yong Peng.

Reference:

A National Geographic documentary about Gen Qi's role in completing China's Great Wall.

Ding bian hu in Fuzhou, Fujian in 2019

Date: 21 Sep 2020

4 comments:

  1. Hi Tony, enjoy reading your blog on the history of Kompia. Previously from reading your blog I discovered Mr Lim's at Taman Ungku Tun Aminah. His stall is actually located at the garage of Restoran Hong Chun rather than at the restaurant proper. Have tried the kompia at Eng Hin Bakery at Yong Peng; they don't do savoury but only with sweet fillings. The most famous Kompia is up north at Cheong Cia Gong Pian Sitiawan located just behind Wisma Ganda. Long queues are frequent and one is limited to buying 20 pieces per person. Many a times I have been to the outlet & left disappointed. Was holidaying in Taiwan two year ago and Kompia are sold everywhere in Taipei, Tainan & Kaohsiung which are the 3 cities I visited. They are either sold at shop outlets or in portable tandoor stalls . The Kompia at Taiwan are huge and filled with meat & veggies and at least twice the size of what one gets in Malaysia. In Taipei I was staying at a guest house at Shilin Night Market and there were at least a couple of portable stores retailing Kompia at TWD20( RM2.85 ) each. There must be a very big Fuzhou community scattered all over Taiwan I guess; what with the easy availability of Kompia

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    1. Thank you Vietnam Mari for your very interesting insights. I look forward to visiting Sitiawan and also Sibu. Of course, Fuzhou, Quanzhou are on the list too :-D

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  2. Thank you Tony for the interesting and insightful article on kompia. In Sibu one can oder deep fried kompia sandwiched with minced pork fillings. Everything is cheap and good in Sibu. Sibu beckons.

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  3. Thank you Tony for the interesting and insightful article on kompia. In Sibu one can oder deep fried kompia sandwiched with minced pork fillings. Everything is cheap and good in Sibu. Sibu beckons.

    ReplyDelete

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