• Chocolate cheese martabak at Rosebery Martabak (Rosebery Martabak)Source: Rosebery Martabak
The unlikely pairing is a popular combination across some of Indonesia's most loved desserts.
Seraphina Seow

30 Mar 2020 - 5:47 PM  UPDATED 30 Mar 2020 - 5:54 PM

Cheese in desserts is nothing new in the Western world. Think carrot cake with cream cheese icing or the classic cheesecake, both relished for their rich, mild flavours.

In Indonesia, however, salt is the welcomed flavour, and in many sweet snacks sold in the warung (food stalls), salty grated cheese is often packed on alongside sweet chocolate.

Tasia Seger, co-owner and chef at Makan in Melbourne tells SBS Food she loves the umami hit of cheese with chocolate. "The cheese and chocolate combination is very complimentary and gives this other level of flavour." 

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The roots of chocolate and cheese trace back to the Dutch colonisation of Indonesia from the 19th to the early 20th century. They introduced Western-style cheese, meises (chocolate sprinkles) and roti bakar (grilled bread).

"The cheese and chocolate combination is very complimentary and gives this other level of flavour." 

The combination of chocolate meises and cheese began making appearances on roti bakar in the 1950s. The trend is likely to have boomed in 1994 when Kraft Cheese was launched in Indonesia and introduced cheese to the masses.

Kraft cheddar is Indonesians' cheese of choice to make sweet snacks like pisang bakar and martabak manis (a sweet, filled deep-fried pancake). 

Henry Lukman, who sells martabak manis at Sydney's Rosebery Martabak, says many children would eat chocolate meises and cheese on bread growing up. 

Henry Lukman explains why the dessert is so popular.

"We were told to drink milk to be smart so growing up people would have cheese. Also cheese was usually more expensive so whenever we had the chance to choose whatever we wanted, we would choose the expensive one so that we feel it's worth it. And chocolate, everybody loves chocolate!"

"I think Indonesians love to experiment. Because we like cheese a lot and we like chocolate a lot, we just mixed it," says Lukman. 

Achieving the winning chocolate-cheese combination is simple, according to Seger. Her restaurant Makan features a chocolate-cheese dessert that is a modern take on pisang bakar (grilled banana), a popular Indonesian street food.

"It's grilled banana with grated cheddar cheese from the block, I call it fake cheese but it's delicious. [It has] meises and condensed milk that is poured on top."

"The original version of pisang bakar coklat keju is literally how its name is written," Seger says. "It's grilled banana with grated cheddar cheese from the block, I call it fake cheese but it's delicious. [It has] meises and condensed milk that is poured on top.

Martabak manis uses the same ingredients but is richer. Lukman emphasises that the martabak must be porous enough so that the added butter seeps through every inch of the pancake.

The Sweet Life with Elise Strachan explores a contrasting combination in this well-loved Indonesian dessert.

Because of the richness of these chocolate-cheese snacks, they are not eaten straight after dinner as a dessert but as a late-night supper.

"There's something about it that makes it taste so good to be eating it at 10 o'clock at night," says Seger.

"In Indonesia all the delivery goes on until very late and a lot of warungs open really late, so when you go out with your friends after dinner, if you feel like something to eat, you know that at 10:30 at night it's still available."

Anyone can enjoy a taste of it in Australia too, even without late-night vendors.

For many Indonesians the ingredients for pisang bakar are staple, says Seger. "Like [my sister] Gracia and I, late at night, when we used to live at home with Mum, we'd feel like something sweet and Mum would be like 'oh, there's some banana just make that'."


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Catch Elise Strachan and guests discovering a world of sweets in the brand-new two-part series The Sweet Life with Elise Strachan at 8:30pm April 2 and 9 on SBS Food, and later on SBS On Demand.

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