January 23, 2009

Time for Bribe the Kitchen God

Celebrating Chinese New Year without kue keranjang (Basket Cake/Chinese sticky cake) is not completed. Kue keranjang is not only a cake but more as a tribute to Dewa Dapur (Kitchen God) who goes down from heaven at the Chinese New Year day. For many Chinese ethnics, name of kue keranjang is very familiar. It is called kue keranjang (basket cake) because it was made in bamboo basket in process.

According to Chinese beliefs, in Chinese New Year, Gods go down to earth to evaluate people’s life in the last year. They will record anything, either it is good or bad, and then reported it to heaven as an annual reports. That’s why Chinese people use these sweet cakes to “bribe” Gods in order to make them bring good reports to heaven. In progress, this cake was become a tools in social intercourse by sending basket cake to each other in Chinese New Year.

In tradition basket cake has round shape, but basket cake this days is more sophisticated and innovated. Basket cake maker now has developed their products. If you take a walk in Glodok, china town of Jakarta, you can find basket cake in many shape like gold fish shape for example. Chinese beliefs gold fish bring luck and fortune.

Although it was only busy towards Chinese New Year, basket cake business is never die. Siti Lauw a.k.a. Ouw Thio Nio or usually called as Mrs. Lauw began this business since year 1962. Nobody suspected if her basket cake business will be survive and has loyal customers till now.

“I began with only 4 liters of sticky cakes a day at that time, and then it grew to basket cakes until now. The demand is still rising up,” she said.

She admitted that this is a seasonal business, which is having highly demand in Chinese New Year, yet the profit is very high. She developed her products with making various taste of sticky cakes in ordinary day (not Chinese New Year).

“Orders came in 1 month before the Chinese New Year, now these last days are the top of the orders,” she continued.

When she was asked her key of success, she just said: don’t leave your customer! Lauw still makes her products in a traditional way, from pounding the glutinous rice powder, mixing ingredients, until the cooking process that still using firewood and banana leaf packaging. “We cooked the basket cake for 12 hours,” she said.

No wonder, every year she can collects hundreds of million Rupiahs from this business. However she should pay more than 100 daily employees. “My employees are generation to generation workers, in the past I employed the mothers, now their children.”

Just for comparison. In regular days she only makes sticky cakes no more than 30 liters a day for marriage party or else. For basket cakes, she only makes them by order. But in this Chinese New Year she estimated that she will use 20 tons raw powder. Her customers are not only come from Tangerang and Jakarta, but also from other cities like Bandung, Karawang, and Bekasi.

The basket cake price is also competitive. Rp. 17,000/kgs (2 pcs), whereas for sticky cake with coconut milk taste is only Rp. 29,000/kgs, durian taste is Rp. 35,000/kgs, and Rp. 34,000 for sesame taste.

Lauw, who is 84 years old now, has handed over her business to her children, which are the third generation in this family business, from production, marketing, distribution, business expantion, etc. “I am only supervised them,” she said.

Umar Sanjaya, Lauw’s oldest son, admitted that this traditional cake business is prospective enough. However, all this time, they have problems in standardization of quality, and quality development such as how to make the wet cakes ages long enough before it’s getting dry and hard. “For now we can not think about export orientation because this kind of cake has not long ages, although the demand from other countries is always came,” he explains.

He continued that although crisis is happening this year but the demand is rising precisely. Every year the sales are always increasing. He doesn’t know why.

“Maybe because it's a tradition needs, so it's never influenced by crisis,” He said.

For you who want to try this family basket cakes recipe, you can find them in this following address.

JL Lio Baru/Bouraq Gang SPG No 55 RT 01/02 Kampung Sirnagalih, Karangsari, Kecamatan Neglasari, Tangerang, Banten. Phone : 021-5524587 dan 021-71095035.

Source: Detik.com

Many thanks to Hodang for his email about this story.

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