Bingka Ubi (Tapioca Cake) Surprise
Well here’s a crazy dish inspired by Shokugeki no Soma (also known as Food Wars!). If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s a Japanese anime all about food and crazy cooking battles called shokugekis. Think Iron Chef on steroids, set in a school where everything – your grades, your friends, your livelihood – is based on how well you cook. Typical of animes, there’s all sorts of eccentric characters in the show, from a spice master who has absolute control over the sense of smell, to a guy who can flawlessly copy any dish using his pure power of mimicry, to a girl with the ‘God Tongue’ who can identify any miniscule errors in cooking by taste alone.
It’s a crazy show to say the list, but the best bits to me are the dishes they come up with.
There are alchemical dishes like the ‘Transforming Furikake Gohan’, a take on a simple Japanese dish of seaweed-seasoned rice, with the genius addition of barely-set cubes of jellied chicken dashi broth that melt as you mix them through the rice. There are dishes that subverts expectations, like a breakfast-themed risotto with apples and bacon. And then there are crazy cross-cultural behemoths like ‘French Curry Lobster Rice with Cognac’ and ‘Naan Pot Pie Curry’. For the latter, think chicken pot pie, but instead of a typical creamy roux-based chicken, there’s Singaporean fish head curry, and instead of pie dough, it uses naan as the pie wrapping. How novel!
Before you think these dishes are all just flights of fancy that can’t ever be replicated in real-life, the show is surprisingly on point with their culinary techniques and terms. Plus there’s a whole Wiki site with actual, workable recipes for dishes made in the show! I’ve even had to look up some of the techniques and ingredients mentioned in the show, and they’re all legit! I’ve learnt things like how the damask rose was a super fragrant used used in many Renaissance desserts, to the best ways of cooking bear meat (not that I ever will), to how using first, second, and third buckwheat flour affects the taste of soba.
Suffice to say, I do draw lotsa inspiration from the show. I particularly fancy the dishes made by the protagonist, Yukihira Soma, who bases a lot of his cooking on his humble Japanese diner upbringing – think rice bowls and bento boxes – but with weird, inventive twists like making noodles from barley, combining cheese and gyoza, and making ridiculous-sounding dishes like ‘Time Fuse Mapo Curry Noodles’ and ‘Roast Pork, Just Kidding’.
So in the spirit of the Soma’s style of glamming up classic dishes, I took a classic dish of my Malaysian childhood – bingka ubi (a baked tapioca cake) – and upgraded it to shokugeki-winning material. I started off with a regular bingka ubi recipe, but instead of having it all rectangular, I baked it in a pan, giving it the shape of a tart of sorts. But for the real twist, I hid a layer of creamy, caramelised dulce de leche inside the cake, giving it that hidden-explosion-of-flavour that’s characteristic of so many battle-winning dishes.
“おそまつ!” (“It wasn’t much!”) — Yukihira Soma
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Bingka Ubi (Tapioca Cake) Special
Makes one 8-inch bingka ubi tart
Dulce de leche filling
250ml cream, can be substituted by milk
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 vanilla pod, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 kg white or yellow tapioca
2 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
100g brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
300ml coconut milk
3 pandan leaves, optional
1 banana leaf
To make dulce de leche, put all the ingredients (milk, cream, sugar, salt, baking soda, and vanilla) in a medium saucepan or pot. Bring it to a boil, and let it simmer for 60-90 minutes, until it caramelises and thickens into a thick peanut-butter-like paste.
Pour the dulce de leche onto a lined baking tray, or a silicon mat, and tilt the tray around so that it forms a circle (roughly 6 inches in diameter). Then put this in the refrigerator or freezer for 30 minutes to an hour to harden up.
Now onto the tapioca cake. First, peel and grate the tapioca, and squeeze out the excess liquid from the grated tapioca. Add the egg yolks, caster sugar, brown sugar, salt, coconut milk and pandan leaves to the tapioca. Then mix it well using your hands, making sure to squeeze and twist the pandan leaves to release its aroma, then remove the pandan leaves.
Ready a well-oiled medium frying pan. Cut a piece of banana leaf into a circle the size of the bottom of the pan, and place it in the pan. Oil the top of the banana leaf, and pour half of the tapioca cake mix into the pan. Place the disc of hardened dulce de leche on top of the first layer of tapioca, and then top it off with the rest of the tapioca cake mix.
Bake this in an oven preheated to 170°C for 60 minutes. Then, flip it out onto a lined baking tray and bake for a further 30 minutes, until the top turns nice and golden. If it doesn’t release from the pan easily, run a spatula or a small knife along the sides of the pan to help the cake release.
When it’s done baking, let it cool for at least 30 minutes, letting the dulce de leche filling set a little. Then, using a serrated knife, slice it up into pieces and serve!