BY ZALINAH NOORDIN
I LISTENED intently as Masnah Sahni shared with my colleague during an interview on how she once longed for the luxuries she has now when she had only RM50 in her purse thirty years ago.
Armed with her penchant for baking and making kuih, this gritty woman has carved her fortune by selling Kek Lapis Sarawak- from being a home baker to becoming a successful kek lapis entrepreneur.
I had jumped at the chance of joining my colleague at the mention of “Kek Lapis Sarawak”, it being my fifth month of being in Sarawak and second week being in Kuching, and yet I haven’t had the chance to find out what the hype over this local delicacy is all about.
That, and I also wanted to meet the lady who made a fortune from selling kek lapis.
According to my colleague, apparently, Masnah is the founder of Mira’s Cake House, a household name in Sarawak, especially amongst cake and dessert lovers.
I was also told that the layer cake from Mira’s Cake House is so famous that those who visit Sarawak would make it a point to stop by her shop to buy dozens of kek lapis Sarawak to bring home.
OK, that piqued my curiosity even more to find out what fuss is all about over some cakes. I did a quick search on Google and found many good reviews. And true enough, one actually described Mira Cake House as a “tourist attraction” and on their website, it says that they offer up to 60 different varieties of kek lapis.
So off I went with her and the TVS crew to Masnah’s home in Matang, for her to do a special report on women entrepreneurs and for me to get to know more about everything Kuching and Sarawak.
Upon reaching, I was enthralled by the grandeur of her double storey bungalow.
As my colleague and her crew were setting up for the interview, I let my gaze wander around.
Intricately designed furniture filled her living room and crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling of her ten-room bungalow.
I could tell Masnah appreciates everything luxurious-looking- from gold trimmed ornaments to the rows of Bohemian crystalware collection that line up her glass cabinets.
I overheard Masnah telling my colleague she grew up helping her mother make and sell all sorts of traditional kuih and had always harboured dreams of one becoming a millionaire and owning everything she dreamt of growing up.
Wow, I thought to myself. All this from selling Kek Lapis Sarawak?
It must be a lucrative business here or maybe there is something about her cake that gets people talking and buying. Or maybe it was the way she sells her kek lapis, I thought.
My thought was disrupted by the sweet smell of what I presumed (and hoped!) to be that of her famous kek lapis, wafting through the air.
True enough, she was in the midst of making her specialty, Kek Lapis Prune to let us sample. She had actually prepared three different kinds of kek lapis for the interview.
“I don’t have much knowledge in anything else but use my skill to get the life I’ve always dreamt of.
“I grew up in a small kampung house here and have always wondered what it was like to be able to buy whatever I has longed for and to live comfortably,” she was overheard saying.
Wanting her own income and not to rely on her husband’s salary, an ambitious Masnah started her business from home in 2001.
“I started out small, by making local kuih before started making kek lapis to sell from home but it was only in 2013 that I decided to brand my cakes and opened Mira’s Cake House.
“There is no secret ingredient, only the finestquality ones and that is something I don’t compromise with even if they cost a bit more. It makes all the difference in taste and texture and that’s why I keep having orders pouring in,” she explained, as she showed us her collection of designer handbags.
True enough, as I sank my teeth into my first taste of Kek Lapis Sarawak, I instantly understood why.
It is no ordinary cake. The cake has a dense, pudding-like texture with a rich buttery taste. Complimented with just a hint of spice it just melts slowly in the mouth with each bite. Finally, a taste of Sarawak, I thought to myself.
Masnah turned to look at me and grinned.
“You see, I only use egg yolks, no egg whites and use only premium grade butter which makes all the difference,” she explained.
According to Masnah, the process of making kek lapis can be painstakingly labourous and time- consuming, taking up to two hours for each cake hence the price.
She explained that each cake has at least twelve layers, each layer taking around ten to fifteen minutes to cook.
She recalled not sleeping for days to fulfil orders at one time before Hari Raya Puasa before she could afford helpers.
“I now have more than a hundred workers in my factory and our cakes are baked fresh daily with no preservatives.
“And then there are the specialty kek lapis made to order like the ones you’re having,” she added.
According to Masnah, local celebrities are also among her loyal customers. Some of them even raved on social media how good the cakes are.
I think I would have to disagree with Masnah when she said her knowledge was only limited to making cakes and kuih as she does indeed have what it entails to become a successful entrepreneur- from planning, marketing strategy to branding even something as simple as kek lapis.