Chendol has been in the limelight recently after CNN claimed it is a top Singapore dessert. Malaysians are of course angry with this news. Personally, I think Chendol is from Malaysia, but I have another story to share.
I don’t know how many of you remember buying chendol from Indian vendors along roadsides in Singapore those days. These Indian chendol vendors would mostly be operating from pushcart stalls. In fact, I have eaten chendol sold by Indian Muslim vendors in Singapore (at the back of former Rex Theatre) and Geylang especially at the then Galaxy theatre. I have also patronized chendol stalls owned by Indians in Melaka, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
Indian chendol would be just a bowl of freshly squeezed coconut milk (with just a touch of salt) congested with pale green strands of cooked rice flour, pure gula melaka (coconut sugar) syrup and shaved white, fluffy ice that looks like snow. The chendol strands were pale green and soft with pandan aroma at that time because the vendors used pandan leaf juice to colour and flavor. When I was young, I used to call it “pachai nakoopuchi”. It means “green worms” in Tamil. The coconut milk and chendol strands would be stored in large aluminum pots. I used to be thrilled watching the vendor using a manual ice shaver and wondering how numb his palms were. It would be served in small Chinese porcelain bowls.
Chendol was a treat on a hot day and because it was considered expensive for my family, two to three siblings would share a bowl and it was a real treat as we savored just 3-4 tablespoons of the revered chendol. It is moments like this made me appreciate food so much. When there is too little of what you like, you tend to eat it slowly, enjoying each mouthful.
I hardly see any Indian vendors selling that type of natural goodness anymore in Singapore or even Malaysia. These days, the chendol strands are coloured electric green and made of mung bean flour or sago flour. The strands have no taste on their own. Chendol bowls are now heaped with sweetened red beans, glutinous rice, grass jelly, sweetened attap chee, condensed milk, fermented tapioca (tapai), chocolate, creamed corn, and even fruits like jackfruit or durian.
Have you ever thought about this? The Indian Falooda -long strands in rose flavoured milk, topped with nuts, ice cream etc looks like another version of Chendol except that in this part of the world we use coconut milk, shaved ice and gula melaka and colour the strands green and in India they use milk, ice cream, flavor with rose water and sweeten with jaggery.
So now, the question again is who copied who? But who cares. All I want is the Indian vendors to make a come back with real good stuff.
How many of you want that chendol?