When it comes to the best one plus one, Baba Nyona — the mix of Chinese and Malaysian culture, cuisine is a hard one to beat. In addition to an impressive long list of Mee (see previous post), there are also an array of delicate, colorful sweet rice cakes Kuih for dessert.
The word Kuih（粿）came from the Chinese, but the Nyona version incorporates local ingredients such as coconut milk and pandan leaves. Coconut milk adds an exotic sweetness and pandan leaves, a herbaceous tropical plant with long green leaves commonly found throughout Southeast Asia, lend a unique taste and aroma to the foods. And when used in cakes and desserts, padan paste turns the sweets vivid green.
From layered pink-and-white Kuih Lapis to dual-layered Seri Muka (padan custard on top, steamed glutinous rice on the bottom) to tube-shaped Kuih Ketayap (pandan crepe wrapped around dark brown coconut filling), these chewy, bite-sized snacks will make you think twice about dismissing glutinous rice.
Another must-try is Cendol, a drinkable, soup-like dessert that soaks green jelly noodles (the green color comes from pandan paste) in coconut milk and palm sugar.
But all in all, my ultimate favorite dessert is red bean shaved ice. Known as Ice (Ais) Red Bean (Kachang) in Penang, and ABC (Ais Batu Campur or mixed ice) in the remaining Malaysia, the dish comprises of shaved ice topped with brown sugar syrup, red beans, various types of jelly and other dressings like ice cream or corn kernels.
My fondness for the dessert derives not from taste (because frankly, this version pales in comparison to Taiwanese-style shaved ice), but sentimentality for the 2010 romantic comedy “Ice Kachang Puppy Love” (《初戀紅豆冰》）.
Opening with long-shot, panning across a motley green wall, the camera brings audience to a Chinese coffeeshop in Tronoh, Perak. Directed by Maylasian-born singer/director Ah Niu, and starring a list of Malaysian-born stars like actress Angelica Lee and singers Gary Chaw and Fish Leong, the film is a coming of age story of a bunch of youngsters growing up in the quiet, small town.
First love/crush for the very young and innocent is a little rocky. Botak, the son of the coffee shop owner, is in love with Anqi, the daughter of a char kway teow seller. But Botak’s love is one-sided. In fact, he is not even sure if Anqi needs him as she appears perfectly capable of defending herself. When the local bully, Ma Linfan teases her of not having a father (Anqi’s mother left her father when she was young), she challenges him to marbles (bakuli) or fight fish and, in Anqi-fashion, beats Ma Linfan’s ass.
Botak knows Anqi longs to be reunited with her father, but on that know, he is also hopelessly helpless. The only thing he can do for his crush is sharing an Ice Kachang when Anqi is upset.
Adding to the twist, the bully’s sister Ma Libing is secretly in love with Botak. And, later, Ma Linfan realizes he teased Anqi because he was in love with her. In the love triangle, no, quadrangle, first love is compared to Ice Kachang.
Like the dessert, first love shocks the entirety of your body and mind with its icy sweetness, yet, the moment you tasted it, it’s fast-disappearing.