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Malaysia doesn’t have four seasons. However, like every other Chinese New Year, the heat from the sun comes to a peak during this festive season. After a few days feasting on meaty dishes and buttery cookies, I desperately look for something light, cooling and refreshing. I need ice. Here are some of the ways you can enjoy ice.
In a tropical country like Malaysia, no doubt, iced dessert is popular. If you go to Malacca, you should not miss cendol. Cendol is shaved ice serve with coconut milk, Gula Melaka (palm sugar), strands of green thingy made from green pea flour and pandan leaves, and optionally sago, red bean, corn…the list is endless. I had my bowl of cendol at Donald and Lily’s corner. The shaved ice is on the coarse side, but the balance of coconut milk and Gula Melaka is simply divine.
When we freeze a flavoured syrup, it becomes granita (Italian) or granité (French). I have plenty of mandarin oranges, so I decided to make a mandarin orange and watermelon granita, serve with colorful fresh fruits: strawberry, green apple, papaya, mango, dragon fruit (also known as pitaya). To make the granita, I use equal amount of mandarin juice and watermelon puree, adjust the taste with some sugar syrup and lime juice, put in the freezer and freeze till it is solid, then scrape with a fork to form icy crystals. If you prefer a smoother texture, just repeat the scraping and freezing process a few times. I just came out from shower and I am sweating again. I can’t be bother to wait, gobbling it down before both the granita and I melt.
The more refine version of flavoured ice, usually using fruit puree as a base, is called sorbet. If you add diary products to the mixture, it becomes sherbet. Does star fruit sorbet with chili sound inviting? Yes indeed. It was one of the star dish during my dining experience at Frangipani restaurant. A great way of utilising local ingredients. There’s a saying in Chinese: to quench one’s thirst by looking at plums. Try looking at these ices for ten seconds. Do you feel cooler?
My grandparents ran a laundry shop during the good old days. At the shop front, there were fragrance from neatly pressed colourful clothing on wooden hangers with hand-written labels and kept nicely on glass cabinet with wooden panels; at the ‘back-of-house’, there were piles of one-meter bar of orange-coloured soaps, several big tanks fill with water, sometimes bubbly… a mysterious but restricted area for a kid.
Therefore, I can’t help but reminiscing when I step into the Old China Café, which is used to be the office for Selangor & Federal Territory Laundry Association. To me, wooden chairs and staircase, marble table, hanging lamp, large feng shui mirror, stained glass, black-and-white photographs, boards with Chinese calligraphy, all exudes ‘rich flavours of the past’. However, to my dad, it reminds him of the ‘poor old time’ where he were intimidated by the dark and squeaky staircase, and especially, the hardship of cleaning and ironing tons of clothing.
In Old China Café, you can see tourists stepping in with some sort of travel guidebook in their hand. Usually, one seldom link touristy restaurant with good food but the Nyonya food (fusion of Chinese and Malay cooking) here is pretty decent. Yet, the thing that really surprise me is a cup of nutmeg juice. I use ground nutmeg sparingly to spice up my food as I always associate nutmeg with nutmeg oil for stomachache and preserved nutmeg with a strong smell that I find it hard to bear. I will never go close to any of this special souvenir from Penang.
Here it is, right in front of me, a cup of nutmeg juice. Hesitantly, I take a sip. My hand is in the ‘prepare to push the cup away position’. Hmm, tangy. To be sure, I take a second sip. I want more. Without realizing, half cup gone. Hey, I really like this! I am glad that my curiosity led me to a thirst-quenching treat and a refreshing sensation. If you are in the mood of nostalgia, come to Old China Café. If you want to wash down the heat from scorching sun, get yourself a nutmeg juice.
There is a Cantonese saying, spoken from an angry mom to her child: “It’s better to give birth to a piece of char-siew than to you”. Why? Why char-siew? Because even char-siew is delicious and useful as food compare with a “hopeless” child.
My mom is plump. She dislikes exercising but will travel for food. Once, she joined my family regular hiking and hiked 5km because we told her that we would have delicious dim sum after the hiking. Certainly, we can’t use this ‘donkey-and-carrot’ trick frequently but every now and then, we will ask her for food recommendation .
The target is set: Overseas Restaurant’s char-siew at Jalan Imbi. To some, this IS the place for char-siew. The char-siew is such a fast-selling item that you have to reserve in advance. We did. And it arrived.
The char-siew in Overseas Restaurant is not the red-tinted version. Charred, sticky, shiny…sounds promising. But where’s the fat? My mom’s face showed disappointment, followed by other diners from the same table. This piece of char-siew is too lean thus lacking moisture.
The moral of the story (to my mum) is: Better give birth to a cook than a piece of char-siew.