We first discovered gong bian (pronounced kom-pyang) in 2006 when we were in Penang visiting my uncle. In his fridge there was a bag of these circular flat-breads, peppered with sesame seeds and stuffed with pork. A couple were popped into a toaster to heat through and made crisp again. This was one of our many breakfasts we ate that day.
The gong pian reminded me of eating something like a bagel, the texture was chewy yet the outside was crunchy, giving way to aromatic minced pork and spring onions. It tasted that good, Christopher and I were determined to find the people who made them.
In search of gong pian we arrived in Sitiawan, about 3 hours north of Kuala Lumpur near the west coast. The food here is Hock Chew. I did a quick search on Hock Chew. Hock Chew is also known as Foochow/Fuzhou cuisine, brought to Sitiawan by settlers from Fujian, China. There’s an interesting story about how it was named Sitiawan on Wikipedia.
Fortunately I have family everywhere and my aunt who lived there had already telephoned the gong pain shop to pre-order a batch. The following morning we visited the shop and watched the production line. The dough was made from wheat flour, lard, yeast, salt and water. Divided into equal portions, the dough was rolled flat, stuffed with filling and rolled flat again. All hand-made.
They were pressed against the inner-wall of a clay oven. I reckon the high-heat and lard were two key factors in making the bread crispy. As soon as they were out of the oven they were bagged into tens or twenties and snapped up by customers who have pre-ordered. My aunt told us to eat them while they were still warm. I have to say they tasted even better when freshly baked.
I think it’s incredibly important to highlight these, usually small family-run, businesses that specialise in one particular recipe, often handed down through the generations. I feel quite chuffed to have discovered gong pian. This is another one on my list to try making at home. Anyone willing to part with a recipe?
Cheong Cia Gong Pian Shop
Jalan Tok Perdana
(behind Wisma Ganda)