Madam Chang was my paternal grandmother (Chang – 曾 – is her maiden name) and my kaya is her kaya. I first learned to make it with her when I was 4, and those hours spent in her kitchen stirring that pot together are some of the happiest memories I have with her. Although my time with her was sadly far shorter than I would have liked, my father and I continued that tradition of making kaya together, keeping the recipe alive for that little bit longer.
My grandmother was an amazing cook, and a very strong woman. She entered an arranged marriage with a man who didn’t love or value her as he should have, but she bore all this without complaint. My father tells me stories of how, when he was a boy, she would visit the markets and collect the discarded outer leaves of cabbages in order to make the meagre sum she had available to feed her family go that little bit further. I can only imagine what a luxury it must have been for her to be able to indulge her grandchildren with treats like homemade kaya in her latter years.
My dream for Madam Chang’s Kaya is twofold – first to bring a taste of proper, homemade kaya to homesick Malaysians (and others of the South-East Asian diaspora!) in the UK, and then to popularise this delicious, versatile spread throughout my adopted home. In doing so, I hope to preserve and honour her memory – and what better way to do that than to have her name on the kaya that she taught me to make?
A side note: Why “Madam”? It’s not from delusions of grandeur – in Malaysia it is common for married women to retain their family names, but to change their title to “Madam” to indicate their marital status.