A story of the ‘Ubi Kayu’ and the War

By Mildred Jones

Anyone would tell you that food was extremely scarce during the Japanese occupation of Singapore and Malaya. People were desperate and sourced for food wherever they could find it. Mak Cik Minah was a royal midwife, married to Pak Abu Bakar from Kedah and they reared chickens in Alor Merah and sold them in Kuala Lumpur. On one fateful day, Pak Abu took a train on this arduous journey and slept with his chickens, only to find that his chickens, malnourished as they were could not withstand the journey and many died. This is when his brother in law set upon the ingenious idea of growing Tapioca in the open jungles of Malaya. Very soon, this root vegetable became a valuable staple and a commodity to trade in and people started to call it ‘banana money’. Coconuts were also plentiful and therefore was naturally combined to make this beautiful cake to feed many in Malaya, which Singapore was very much part of. This cake is still eaten here presently and in Malaya as we celebrate our strong bonds and the intertwining of our cultures with just as strong a reminder of our survival roots.

The Recipe of Ubi KayuUbi Kayu


2 kilos of Ubi Kayu
2 ½ cups of Brown sugar
1 Litre Thick Coconut Milk
3 Eggs, beaten
A pinch of Salt


Peel the Ubi Kayu and grate it. Use a food processor if necessary. Drain the liquid

Place the liquid in a bowl and allow the starch to settle down and incorporate only the starch back into the recipe, discard the rest of the liquid.

Mix all the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and stir until it is well combined.

Grease baking tray and pour the mixture into a tray. Bake in a convection oven at 180 degrees Celsius for one hour. When the top is nicely browned the cake should be done. 

Allow to cool for a few hours or at best overnight and cut neatly into squares. It was common for families to have tapioca (Ubi Kayu in Malayu) three times a day, sometimes on its own or sometimes accompanied by salted fish, porridge. I suggest having this sweet cake with a strongly brewed cup of coffee. 

Photo Acknowledgements: cherryonacake.blogspot.sg.

Reference: Faridah Abdul Rashid, The Biography of the Early Malay Doctors 1900-1957, Malaya and Singapore, Xilbris Corporation, 2012.

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