Ice, Ice Baby
As we all know Malaysia is located right near the equator, therefore blessed (or cursed, you decide) with sun all year round. Rest assured you would get some action of heat even at the wettest time of the year. So normally when the sun is at its highest, we the mere mortals normally have to brace through it just to get our mid-day break of food and drinks. After out and about, slowly baking away in the heat, one is sure to crave for something cooling or icy. You may think of ice cream at first thought, but in Malaysia, you will definitely find more than just ice cream, or gelato or sherbet for the matter. Here is where, the ever enterprising epicurean folks in Malaysia, had created lots of icy treats of sorts, mostly from ice origins.
Photo by qwazymonkey
When I was just a little kid in primary school, we have always loved the ‘ais krim potong’, translated loosely as ‘cut ice cream’, it is literary flavoured ice cut into thin long blocks each, each with a stick frozen inside of it. So you can imagine us, being good little kids that ate up our meal first, and then run to the ice cream man, who would always ever so diligently be standing there, manning his metal box of treasures. We would be standing there eagerly peeping over when he opens his metal treasure box, and we would gingerly and shyly pick a stick for ourselves. You can have from orange to lime to Ribena to laici to adzuki beans and many more flavours, your pick! The funny thing is whenever we have those coloured flavour ones, we always end up with our tongue tinge with that colour, and purple is always my favourite look! Nowadays, we seldom get to find these ‘home made’ versions of ais krim potong anymore. Now, one can get those pre-packaged versions at most supermarkets and groceries shops, though not as good novelty wise, the taste is still pretty much there.
As I grew older, I have slowly moved on from ‘ais krim potong’, and soon found solace in ais kacang (literary translated to peanut ice) which is also known as ABC here in Malaysia, short for ‘ais batu campur’ (better translation in English of mixed ice)! This icy treat is made from shaved ice, doused liberally with sweet flavoured syrup of various colours to brighten the dish along with a huge splash of evaporated milk. Some places even have them doused with the Malaysian’s infamous gula Melaka (palm sugar).Then with this sweeten and coloured ice, depending on where you are having this ais kacang, you would get various mix-ins such as red beans, sweetcorn, grass jelly, cubed agar-agar (jellies) and even cendol. This dish had always been a favourite of mine to cool down while I enjoy the various bites of different textures and flavours of the mixture. No ais kacang of different stalls has ever taste the same as it is universally adaptable. Though I have yet to find the best of the best ais kacangs, I am still enjoying and exploring those I can get my tongue on while I continue to search for the ultimate ais kacang that will have me go back again and again!
Photo by cincerosonrisa
Then not to forget is our Malaysian very own favourite van-style stall of cendol and pasembor/rojak. I simply love this really simple treat, shaved ice, pour in with the all-time favourite combination of gula Melaka and coconut milk, then top off with cendol , a specially made green worm-like dough (cooked dough of green pea flour and juice from pandan leaves). Optionally there will either be mix-in of kacang (peanut) and red beans. I love to have kacang for the extra bite, while for red beans, I love the type which is adzuki beans and not the kidney beans, and yes these two often are served with cendol, so you need to know where to get yours for your preferred type, else just go plain, it is still as good! In my opinion, the real deal that makes or breaks a cendol is the quality of the gula Melaka, freshness of the coconut milk and finally the springiness of the cendol. The best simple, meaning just plain ol’ basic combinations in small silver bowls are found at road side van stalls. But if you want to go for a huge and extravagant cendol in big bowls (normally even with a mini stand), it is best found in upmarket restaurants, preferably serving nyonya food, these are good and indulgent in its own rights.
Photo by heather
Finally the latest, when I say latest it does not mean recently but just that it has been discovered much later than the icy treats above, is the ‘sai mai lou’, which is also shaved ice, but this time topped with fruits juices and evaporated milk and then mixed in with cubed fruits of the like and sago pearls. This, if I am not mistaken, is an adaptation from the famous Hong Kong dessert, which is now available in more and more Chinese dessert cafes around Malaysia. Though I must say, my first love for this delicious dish is at a roadside stall at Petaling Street (Malaysia’s version of China Town), where the best Mango ‘sai mai lou’ is served. I observed that the lady who mans the stall would pour in some secret fresh evaporated milk onto freshly shaved ice and then puree fresh mangoes for the ‘sauce’ which then is doused liberally onto the mixture along with sago pearls. It is a simple yet totally addictive refreshing treat. Now, as I do not get to go there often, I would have to satisfy my cravings at various desserts cafes, which is not too shabby, though unbeatable to the former, yet still able to quench my thirst while I enjoy something sweet.
Photo by alisoniii
So if you are ever in Malaysia, and cursing or basking in the ever shining sun that we have all year round, grab our unique ais krim potong at the supermarkets, or head on to the nearest road side stall for a quick and cheap yet satisfying shaved ice treats of campur-campur (mixtures) which is the ABC or the special green worm-like cendol, or if you are keen enough (or convinced by me), head on to Petaling Street in search of my ultimate sai mai lou. If all these do not rock your boat, rest assured you can look out for these treats at various cafes, restaurants and even at up-scale dining, you would be cool down for sure!
Rokh is a food columnist on Malaysia Travel Guide, she’s an epicurean and a cook who loves to eat, also writes in her own Malaysia Food Guide – Thamjiak.com . In this column, she will bring you along while she explore various Malaysia foods, like what is good, what makes them so special and how or where to best well enjoy them. More [+]