Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hot and cold = a cool combo

Freshly fried cucuk (AKA cucur) udang -- great with
fried tofu, fish paste rolls and raw cucumber
all dipped in a semi spicy, semi sweet peanut-y sauce

...and even better in tandem with a shallow bowl
of delightful Swatow Lane ais kacang!

According to its Wikipedia entry, a certain American institution is the largest fast food burger chain in the world -- and serves some 64 million customers daily. But as hard as it may be to believe it (now), the bulk of my childhood years in Penang were spent without a single American fast food outlet having been established in the state.

Consequently, I actually had my first McDonald's experience on one of my early visits to England -- and it was only during my undergraduate years at Beloit College that I learnt that the hot-cold combination of a burger, French fries and a milk shake is one of those culinary instances of the whole being better than the sum of its parts.

At the risk of losing my foodie credentials, I must admit to still not being above getting food from McDonald's every once in a while. (And this not just because there are two of its outlets located within 10 minutes walk from my apartment here in Hong Kong -- including one that's open 24 hours and even when the typhoon signal number 8 is hoisted.) However, I also will attest to having belatedly discovered an even cooler hot and cold combo back in Penang than the archetypal American one.

More specifically, I really,
really like eating a slice of hot cucuk udang (prawn fritters) that has been dipped into its accompanying sauce and then quickly spooning a icy cold portion of ais kacang into my mouth. (And yes, it really is a joy to get to repeat this several times over the course of a single meal.) Even more specifically, I like getting this combination at the stalls at the Swatow Lane New World Park Hawker Centre (that I make a point to eat at on visits back to Penang), and first began going for this combination back when both the cucuk udang and ais kacang were being sold from roadside stalls one one side of Swatow Lane itself.

Like the McDonald's burger-fries-milk shake combo, this Malaysian hot-cold combo also incorporates hot elements that are savory and cold elements that are sweet. However, when I point out that the ais kacang alone is a dish whose ingredients include red beans (the kacang in the dish's name), rose or sasparilla syrup, grass jelly, creamed corn, pine seeds and more as well as thirst-quenching shaved ice (the ais in the dish's name), I think you'll appreciate that the combination I favor as an adult is quite a bit more complex than that which I enjoyed as a callow youth! ;b

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