Malaysia’s Unesco world heritage city of Melaka, better known by its old colonial name of Malacca, draws visitors not just for its melting pot history of Malay, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences, but as a foodie paradise symbolised by the local nyonya cuisine.
While signature dishes include the rich laksa soups and spicy assam fish, Melaka boasts its own unique version of Malaysia’s favourite dessert, nyonya cendol, pronounced “chendol”. A mountain of shaved ice is piled into a bowl, topped off with red beans, green jelly-like rice noodles flavoured with fragrant pandan leaf, and creamy coconut milk. And then comes the special hometown ingredient, lashings of dark brown, syrupy gula melaka, made from palm sugar, which is more smoky than saccharine sweet.
It is wickedly delicious, and a great thirst quencher in the sweltering temperatures. And a bowl costs three Malaysian ringgits, just 50p. The most popular place to try cendol is at a street stall in Melaka’s heritage Red Square.
Most cendol stalls use modern kit to make the shaved ice, but it is worth tracking down one of the few remaining spots that still use a cast-iron contraption to shave rough blocks of ice into wafer-thin flakes. The hole-in-the-wall Min Chong Hygienic Ice Cafe has been going for over 70 years, and the owner, whose father founded the business, refuses to change anything about the way cendol is made, proudly insisting: “Once you try my cendol, you will immediately taste the difference.”
• Min Chong Hygienic Ice Cafe, 43 Jalan Bunga Raya, open daily 11.30am-6pm