In moving traveling from Taipei to Borneo, we had to make a quick adjustment from the cold, wet winter weather of Taiwan to the sweltering tropical heat of Malaysia. Thankfully, we were able to find an aid to that transition. While walking through the market in Kota Kinabalu, we saw vendors with large plastic tubs filled with strange neon-green squiggles, explained only by signs advertising ‘cendol’. While we initially eyed this strange dessert with skepticism, it quickly became our daily treat, and our favorite way of cooling off.
A sweet dessert ‘soup’ made of bright green mung-bean-flour threads served with a mound of ice and coconut milk, cendol was served rather simply in Sabah. In Melaka, we sampled a much more mature version of cendol, in which red beans were mixed among the threads of cendol. While they might have made the dessert a little more savory, the effect was balanced out with a dark swirl of gula melaka, the rich local palm sugar. It added an additional complexity to the dessert.
But to be honest, while I can appreciate the Melaka version as a superior product, there’s something I rather liked about the simple cendol we got in Borneo. Without the red beans and the darkly-sweet palm sugar, it was uncomplicated and uncluttered, creamy without being too rich or too complex; satisfying in the same way that a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream might be more refreshing than a rich gelato on a hot summer day.