I just realized it’s been two weeks since my last post. My parents came to visit, so I’ve been busy playing tour guide. The good news is that I’ve now accrued a lot of material for the blog. (Although I didn’t get to feed them quite as much as I would have liked, as they could only manage three meals a day, rather than the four or five it would take to cover all the culinary hits.)
I wanted to show my parents that Malaysia isn’t all shiny high-rises and inane traffic engineering, so we took a road trip to Melaka/Malacca. Much like Penang, Malacca is an old trading city that has retained its colonial architecture and charm (and is a UNESCO World Heritage city). Also like Penang, Malacca is known for Nyonya cooking, as well as a distinctive Portuguese fusion cuisine. But we didn’t try any of those, because the restaurants were closed.
Instead, we opted for another Malaccan specialty: chicken rice balls. It’s just like regular chicken rice, except the rice part comes in little ping-pong-sized balls. Anyone who’s had musubi (a.k.a. onigiri) knows that when rice is compacted, it becomes a dense nugget of chewy goodness, and that’s exactly what these are.
We went to Hoe Kee, a restaurant that has lines during peak hours. It must be because of the rice balls, because the chicken wasn’t anything to write home about (or blog about, for that matter). The balls are a brilliant idea, though. I don’t know why we don’t consume more of our starches in a spherical format. Chicken rice is especially suited to this, because the rice is cooked with chicken fat and broth, and the savoriness is concentrated by getting packed into ball form.
Malacca is also known for ais cendol, the Malaysian take on shave ice. (That’s not a typo. “Shaved ice” has got nothing on shave ice. And don’t get me started on Sno-Cones.) The Malaccan version is made with a particularly potent form of palm sugar syrup called gula melaka; it’s a bit like molasses, but with a deeper, caramel-like flavor.
There’s also the obligatory topping of green noodle-y things (cendol), sweetened kidney beans, and condensed milk. I’ve had it with corn, too. The gula melaka really set apart this ais cendol. Very refreshing on an incredibly hot day.
Next: introducing the parents to another Malaysian tradition, the banana leaf.