Cendol: The evergreen Malaysian sweet treat

The evergreen Cendol dessert.

By Wilfred Pilo

Kuching, Sept 16: If you are looking for a local dessert to quench your thirst, you can’t go wrong with Cendol as your immediate answer.

Despite the introduction of all manner of sorbet-type desserts in the local food scene in recent years, Cendol is still as green (no pun intended) as ever and still very much a local favourite.

This enticing local dessert consists primarily of green pieces of boiled rice flour dough in palm sugar syrup, topped with shaved ice, and drench with fresh coconut milk or evaporated milk.

Shaved ice desserts are ubiquitous in South East Asia and can usually be found at street-side stalls.

These days, Cendol has become a heterogeneous dessert and comes in a wide range of variations to suit different palates.

Cendol can refer to the ice dessert and also the green rice flour droplets (seen centre).

This writer is reminded of a story told by a cousin about his time in Kuala Lumpur back in the late 1970s where he was studying, about looking for Cendol.

As an innocent kampung boy and still a teenager, he had eaten the dessert a few times and enjoyed it immensely.

One day, he visited a street-stall at Klang Valley, looking to treat himself after long hours of studying, and he spotted the green rice dough Cendol pieces and the other ingredients which make up the iconic dessert.

As he was not confident in his communication skills, he politely pointed to the letter ‘C’ on the menu signboard which had “ABC” emblazoned across it.

He did not know ‘ABC’ was the acronym for ‘Air Batu Campur’, another name for a variation of Ais Kacang which includes the green Cendol jelly as a component.

The hawker was surprised when my cousin told him that he wanted a ‘C’ only and asked why he wanted to order ‘C’ only and not ‘ABC’? My cousin replied he wanted ‘C’ for Cendol and innocently said he did not want ‘A’ or ‘B’ without realising the exact meaning of the acronym.

After a brief exchange, my cousin shyly got the treat of his Cendol and learnt the meaning of the acronym ‘ABC’ from the hawker.

The amusing incident became the talk of his fellow students at the university where he studied and to this day, whenever I meet up with my cousin for a Cendol.

So the next time you order your Cendol, remember it is quite distinct. It is not ABC or Ais Kacang (a shaved ice dessert with red beans).

To this writer, the evergreen Cendol dessert is still the mother of all local iced desserts and a sweet treat that always unites friends and family together.

One place to stop and quench your thirst with Cendol is Palm Sing Cafe, operated by Chiam Tau Tium who formerly operated a stall at Palm Road.

Chiam Tau Tium who operates Palm Sing Cafe prepares a customer’s order.

Chiam has served Cendol for more than forty years and learned the trade from his late father.

“My family served hot and cold beverages, but our stall and my father was well known his Cendol dessert in those days at the Palm Road hawker centre before we move to this locality,” he told the writer when met recently.

“Last time, we only thought of the classic Cendol when it comes to dessert. We only know Cendol is something cooling and sweet to quench the thirst, but these days there are many more Cendol varieties to suit the individual palate,” he added.

“The make-up of the dessert has changed, and we have done more varieties to suit customers’ taste these days. Now, Cendol is mixed with other ingredients like red beans, to make desserts like the Cendol Kacang.

“We also combine Cendol, different coloured jellies, red beans, sago balls, canned fruits like lychee and pineapple, topped up with other sweet syrup to make ABC or Ais Batu Campur,” he revealed.

Chiam said the variations only serve to make the iced dessert more enticing to customers who would want to try different variations to please their sweet tooth.

“These days, we have many varieties of iced desserts and a wide range of customer preferences. Local desserts have followed the trends, and vendors have imported ideas from other countries.

Cendol is drenched with evaporated milk before the dessert is served.

He explained that the Cendol is now mostly made with evaporated milk, rather than coconut milk.

“We often ask customers about their preferences on whether they want to add coconut milk or evaporated milk,” he disclosed.

When asked about his personal favourite iced dessert, Chiam said that he preferred Ais Kacang to Cendol.

“If I were to have Cendol, I want the traditional flavour with coconut milk and palm sugar,” he revealed.

Palm Sing Cafe at Hui Sing Hawker Centre

Besides Cendol and ABC, Chiam said that his tall serves other iced desserts like Matterhorn, White Lady, as well as hot and cold beverages.

It also served fried skewered chicken parts, fried rolls, chicken burgers and others.

Palm Sing Cafe is at No 2. Hui Sing Hawker Centre and opens daily from 2.30pm to 8pm. For further inquiry, call 016 870 7972. — DayakDaily