If you have the chance to visit Malaysia, and Penang in particular, you will notice that are many shops that sell biscuits, like heong pniah, phong pniah, beh teh saw, and phong pniah etc. However, two biscuits that really stand out are Tau Sah pniah and Tambun pniah, or Dragon Ball / Pearl biscuits. Both biscuits are famous Penang delicacies, and a “must have” when visiting Penang trying delicacies.
These two biscuits in particular are very similar in taste and texture; however, with a twist of difference. Tau Sar pniah is the larger one, and tambun pnaih is smaller and rounder in shape.
Today, I thought I’d do some research and really find out what are the differences between the two biscuits.
Tau Sar Pniah Biscuits
First let’s look at Tau Sar Pniah. “Tau Sar Pniah is a hokkien term for savoury mung bean biscuits. “Tau sar” means mung bean paste and “Pnaih” means biscuits. In Chinese it is 豆沙饼.
The filling is made from mung beans, sugar and fried shallots (some use shallot oil), thus it has the flavour of sweet and saltiness. As for the crust or skin, it is made from wheat flour and oil – or it can be coconut oil, ghee or pork lard. It is believed that the flaky pastries of the biscuits were introduced by the immigrants of the Fujian province of China during British colonial time.
Tau Sar pniah is bigger in size compared with a tambun biscuit. It has a more generous amount of mung bean fillings and a thinner and crumbly layer of pastry. They are usually sold in 5-piece packs, and wrapped in waxed paper rolls.
Tambun Pniah/Dragon Ball / Dragon Pearl biscuits
Later, some innovative bakers came up with a miniature version / bite size biscuits called Tambun biscuits, which are also known as dragon balls or pearl biscuits. It is bite size, has thicker pastry and less mung bean filling.
Tambun Biscuits just out of the oven @ Soon Hiang Penang
The pastry of the Dragon Pearl biscuits, however, is believed to be invented in Bukit Tambun, Penang, hence known as Tambun Pniah/biscuits. It is made from both water and oil dough, hence thicker and less flaky than the original tau sar pniah.
The difference between the two biscuits: Tau Sar Pniah – bigger, softer in texture, has a thinner crust and is more crumbly, while the fillings come in either sweet or savoury and they are mostly wrapped in paper.
As for tambun pniah or a dragon pearl/ball, it is smaller in size, with a thicker crust (made from both water and oil dough), has a sweet paste and is wrapped in boxes.
Soon Hiang @ Kuantan Road in Penang – My go to shop to get my tambun biscuits fix
This is one biscuit I would normally bring back from Penang by the dozens. There are only very few shops that still make these biscuits by hand, and my goto shop is Soon Hiang at Kuantan Road, Penang. There is a 4-7 days booking period required.
Where to buy the biscuits in Australia?
You can purchase from Nyonyalicious online store