Hajjah Wan Fatimah Abdul Latiph wakes up at 4.30am every morning and her mind will already be on the 10 kilos of yam that has to be grated. Any rain or moist weather may rot the yam needed for the two trays of yam kuih (bite-sized snack or dessert foods). Her long time helper is already up mixing the santan (coconut milk) and palm sugar for 30 minutes. If the heat is too high, the mixture will burn, hence mixing it slowly under low heat is important. Around her the smell of baked platters of Kuih Bakar, Seri Muka and Kuih Talam Pandan fills the air. In another wok, the curry puffs are ready to be fried. This is how busy Hajjah Wan Fatimah’s kitchen in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala lumpur, Malaysia would be everyday.
Hajjah Wan Fatimah took an interest in baking after resigning as a Major in the Malaysian Air Force to take care of her 2 year old daughter. It all started with her first sale of chocolate cake. Then the orders started coming in for cream puffs and pastries. Before she knew it, the telephone was ringing everyday and many of her customers were asking for orders to cater for thanksgiving prayers and weddings.
When I spoke to her daughter, Nur Raihan Thye, now 29 years old, she said that her mother never had any business plans in her mind. Hajjah Wan Fatimah just loved baking and anything that she baked turned out moist and tasty. Creating Malay and Nyonya kuih is not like baking a cake or baking biscuits. It requires patience and lots of concentration especially when stirring the batter before steaming it. Kuih Bakar is the only Malay kuih that requires baking, and the longest lasting cake unlike the rest which requires steaming. Besides that, the ingredients especially santan which is a vital ingredient in all the kuih needs to be fresh. Twice a week, their supplier from the farmer’s market will supply up to 60 to 70 kilos of yam and everyday fresh santan will be delivered which makes up to 300 coconuts a week.
When Hajjah Fatimah’s business expanded, she opened “My Little Cake Shoppe” during the mid-1990s in Taman Tun Dr Ismail wet market. By then, she had stopped baking Western dishes and concentrated solely on creating premium Malay kuih neatly packed in clear containers. During this period, orders were coming in from the Royal Palace, Petaling Jaya Hilton, Sheraton, Kelab Golf Perkhidmatan Awam (KGPA) and Armada Hotel. Cooking in her kitchen was out of the question; as a result, she rented a house in Taman Tun Dr Ismail and hired three helpers to help with the kuih business.
It has been 5 years since Raihan took over her mother’s business and people are now ordering these traditional Malay cakes to freeze pack when they visit their family overseas. When Ramadhan approaches, the requests increase as everyone seeks these sweet delicacies to break their fast. She said, kuih is the last dish that anyone can think of making when preparing a meal for family and friends. It takes time and effort so it is easier if they had someone to make it for them.
When I asked Raihan whether she had any challenges taking over the business, she smiled and quipped that everyone still thought that she was a little girl who used to play around the café and not the upcoming young entrepreneur.
“A few people have commented that I should be working somewhere in an office to earn better income rather than running the neighbourhood café. They think it is like a part-time job to spend my free time and not a family business to be taken seriously.”
Also a mother herself, Raihan studied fashion, marketing and management in Raffles Design College. She was an assistant buyer for British India and Marks & Spencer. As of now, she has her hands full after her birth of her daughter. Besides managing the family business, she also works as a personal shopper for Cotton Candies and is the sole Malaysian distributor for swimming aid for children.
Raihan believes that the business will still prevail insya Allah, because her mother’s cakes are well known throughout Kuala Lumpur. When the Prime Minister’s daughter’s wedding reception took place in Sheraton Hotel last year, he personally requested for Seri Muka Durian Pulut Hitam. Seri Muka (Pretty Face) or Kuih Salat is a two layered dessert with steamed glutinous rice forming the bottom half and a green custard layer made with pandan juice. This best seller was declared one of 100 Malaysian heritage foods and drinks by the Malaysian Department of National Heritage in 2009.
Even though her mother does not run the business anymore, she has always advised Raihan to ensure the importance of being honest in everything. Twice a week, they donate their cakes to Rumah Ilham, an orphanage along Pinggir Taman Tun Dr Ismail. Occasionally, Raihan takes part in the Free Market (a flea market where everything from books to carpets are given free of charge) which is held around Peninsular Malaysia.
There is simply no stopping Hajjah Wan Fatimah from learning as she just earned her Diploma in Shariah Studies from University Malaya. At 66 years of age, she still has the ability to literally climb mountains. Just last year, she scaled the Annapurna Mountain and did parasailing as well as water-rafting in Nepal!
My Little Cake Shoppe runs its business from 8am until 2pm from Tuesdays until Fridays and 9am until 1pm on weekends. They are located in TD 96 A, Level 3, Pasar Besar Taman Tun Dr Ismail. Like their Facebook page, or contact +603-7727 5648 or sms Raihan at +6016-2054 611 to place an order for these sweet Malay delicacies.