You’re liable to get fat, if you eat too many of these delicious buns.
Besides Kampua Mee, Sibu is known for another favorite Foochow food: Kompia buns. These crusty baked buns are dense like a bagel but not as chewy. They come either plain or baked with sesame seeds. Kompia are made simply with wheat flour, water, salt and a little baking soda, yet they are simply addictive!
Legend has it that a Chinese general named JiGuang, looking to feed his soldiers in Fujian province with something quick to make and easy to carry into battle, commissioned these buns to be made. There is a hole in the middle of these buns so that they can be strung together and worn around the neck. When a soldier gets hungry, he can just pull one off and eat on the run!
In honor of the general, the buns were named “Guang Ping” (or “Kompia” in the Foochow dialect). Many Foochows later came to settle in the Sibu area of Sarawak, bringing along some of their favorite foods like these kompia buns.
Our good friend and Sibu host, Mike, took us walking the streets and alleys just nearby the Sibu Central Market. Venturing down on cramped and dimly lit alley, we happened upon this small shop selling kompia and other baked goods. The proprietor was busily working inside, preparing the dough for baking.
First, he took a thick rope of dough and snapped off equal sized balls. Working with a one-handled rolling pin, he first rolled the ball into a thick disc, flipped it over, then rolled it a second time. He next pressed the point of the handle into the center of the disc to make the hole, then deftly slid the disc out of the way while reaching for the next ball.
He did this maneuver dozens of times until all the balls were rolled out.
Once they were rolled out and arranged, he sprayed them with a misting of water and then sprinkled on a generous helping of sesame seeds.
Kompia are traditionally cooked in a charcoal-fired clay or concrete oven, similar to an Indian tandoor. After wetting his hands, the baker loaded on a few discs, then reached in to the oven to deposit them on the sides of the oven wall. He repeated this process until the entire inside was covered with buns.
The pile of lit charcoal inside the oven was ingeniously covered with a wok to keep the earlier buns from cooking and also protect the baker as he worked. Once all the buns were arranged, he removed the wok and positioned a blower fan to feed air to the coals and bring up the temperature. When the coals were burning red-hot, he covered the top of the oven to let the buns bake for about 10 minutes.
After a brief wait, it was time to check on the buns. With a long-handled basket in one hand and what looked like a small spade in the other, he reached in to the oven to knock several of the cooked buns off the wall and collect them in the basket. Then he swung them into another basket where his wife was waiting to bag them up for waiting customers.
These kompia are best eaten fresh out of the oven, when they are still a bit soft, and the intoxicating fragrance of sesame seeds wafts from the warm bun. There is a hint of smoke from the charcoal as well. The best part is the side that was sticking to the wall, which is slightly burnt and caramelized from the heat.
You can eat them plain, but a popular way of eating kompia nowadays is to slice them in half and fill them with pork (Mike has a recipe here) or other meat fillings. However you like to eat them, just be careful not to eat too many at one go!
I am entering this article in the Muhibbah Malaysian Monday roundup for November, hosted by Shaz.