A great friend of mine told me, before TJ and I left on our journey through SE Asia, a piece of advice he likes to keep with him through his travels. Advice, yes, but also a way of life. What am I talking about you may ask? Well, when you’re traveling internationally, particularly to places vastly different from your home country, it can be fun to try new things but also a bit intimidating. While sitting outside one favorite burrito spots in Ashland, Oregon (Ruby’s) just days before we took off he said “don’t ask what it is until after you’ve eaten it, or at least tried it”.
Now, I’ve tried a few strange things in my life from fertilized duck eggs in rural Cambodia to snacking on crickets like they’re potato chips in Mexico City. Even so, there are inevitable moments where I get a sickly feeling of “what on earth am I eating?”. This is exactly what happened as I was handed a bowl of ice with a milky-white liquid base, brown liquid floating in between, green worm-like noodles on top, and something that looked like baked beans sitting on the bottom… oh well, here goes nothing!
In the name of trying something new, TJ and I had headed out with our Kiwi and Californian friends to try a coveted Malaysian dessert… Chendul! We found the “world famous” street stall (many street stands and warungs here have “world famous” in their name) that is highly recommended by Lonely Planet and set out to try this dessert. Conveniently, it was located under a giant mural of a local slurping a bowl of this delicacy.
The street was packed with people buying food, and this stall, in particular, was quite full! We waited our turn and marveled as different colors and consistencies of foods were placed into cups at lightning fast speeds. TJ and I looked at each other still not quite sure what we were about to order, nodded our heads, and went for it.
“One chendul please”
We exchanged our 2.90 RM ($0.68) for a bowl of dessert.
Ready to embark on this tastebud adventure we all headed inside to find a place to sit. Other than knowing it was supposed to be sweet I knew pretty much nothing. I put a spoonful of the ice, now milky-brown liquid, green noodles, and beans in my mouth. Yum! Definitely different than anything I’ve ever had before, but quite delicious. TJ tried next and decided it tastes a bit like molasses.
Upon returning to our home later that evening I looked up the dessert:
Ice: simple – just shaved ice
Milky white: coconut milk
Brown liquid: palm sugar syrup
Green noodles: rice flour jelly
Beans: sweetened red azuki beans
Trying new things can be a bit of a gamble sometimes (particularly if you have a sensitive stomach), but often the worst that happens is you try it and decide to not try it ever again. Even so, you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone, tried something new, and who knows maybe it’ll be one of your new favorites.
We’ll certainly be continuing our journey and trying new things along the way without knowing what they are. It’s a bit of a rush sometimes, but the payoffs can be huge 🙂 In this case, we’ll be telling many others to try chendul and will be eating it again before we leave George Town.
Do you have any stories of strange foods you’ve eaten, good or bad?
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