Saturday, July 30, 2011

Opak Gambir--Rolled Wafer Production in Wlingi

Tjing’s favorite aunt in Kediri, an excellent cook who taught me how to make botok jagung last year, arranged an outing to her hometown to visit some homes where opak gambir is produced.  These are thin, crisp wafers made from a variety of flours, coconut milk, eggs, and sugar that are cooked between two plates of iron stamped with various designs. Rolled or folded while still hot, opak gambir may be plain, with sesame seeds, or flavored with banana, pandan, ginger, or durian.  In Vietnam,  banh kep ngo are a variation of opak gambir with cilantro leaves and a sweetened peanut filling. 

Wlingi, the town where  Ching’s aunt, Yi Tjim, was born and grew up, is not quite half way between Kediri and Malang.  Although not a big town, it has grown since Yi Tjim moved to Kediri and she couldn’t quite place her old haunts.  Many of the people living there have been there for generations, so when Yi Tjim (who is in her 70s) would meet an older person she would introduce herself by saying she was so and so’s daughter.

Bu Liu has been making and selling opak gambir since 1968.  It is a small operation, with only two cooks, each managing 5 or 6 irons at a time.  On the day of our visit, the more experienced cook, whose hands have toughened to the point where she can fold and roll the still hot wafers, was absent.  The young woman working that day could only make the rolled version of the wafers.

Given the opportunity to try our own hands at rolling the wafers, Tjing and I had mixed success.  Tjing was unable to do more than pick up the wafer briefly before dropping it back onto the hot iron.  I managed to roll one, but it was a grosser, cloddish effort compared to the tight rolls the young woman produced. 

My effort at producing a roll.
From there we drove maybe a quarter mile down the street to visit another maker of opak gambir.  This was a larger operation than Bu Liu’s.  From the street we descended a steep alley to an area bordering rice paddy.  Housed in a shed with wire-meshed windows and a corrugated zinc roof, this “factory” employed seven cooks and two packers.  It seemed to be primarily a wholesaler, packaging the opak gambir in massive bags containing several thousand wafers.  As with Bu Liu’s, each cook handled 5 or 6 irons, constantly opening, filling, closing, flipping, and lifting one iron or another, always remembering which held a wafer ready to be rolled or folded.  Each cook produced about 6 1/2 kilograms (a little over 14 pounds) of wafers a day.  A kilogram of wafers sells for a little less than $3. 

Laundry drying outside the factory.
Don't worry, the girl is the owner's daughter.  She doesn't work there.
Mixing the batter.
Pandan flavored cone shaped opak gambir.
A scant teaspoon of batter is used for each wafer.
The hot wafer is folded, then rolled to form a layered cone.
The heat from the bank of coals is quite intense.
One of the packers.
Should you happen to find yourself in Java sometime, opak gambir are great with coffee or tea.  They’d also be nice with a dish of ice cream.  We picked up a couple of the irons in a shop in Kediri, so I’ll be attempting to produce my own opak gambir after returning to Sacramento.  Stay tuned for that post.


  1. These sound really good. I'll bet I could make them in a pizzelle iron. Oh, pandan flavored pizzelles! I'll look forward to seeing you post about making them (and hopefully a recipe?)

  2. Tjing bought a pizzelle iron with the hope that we could make these. We found they created a wafer that was too thick. The opak gambir irons are so tight that a teaspoon of oil is squeezed over the edges when closed. However, you can make a good pandan flavored pizzelle. I will post the recipe(s) when I make these.

  3. Informative, interesting, and great pictures--hot, hard, work -- many ways to make a living--most U.S. folks have no idea. Looking forward to a ginger flavored opak gambir, a dish of chocolate ice cream, and a cup of Folger's hazel nut flavored coffee. Papa Bob

  4. Informative, interesting, and great pictures--hot, hard, work--many ways to make a living--most U.S. folks have no idea. Looking forward to a ginger flavored opak gambir, a dish of chocolate ice cream, and a cup of hazel nut flavored Folger's coffee. Papa Bob


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