From June 15-July 3, I joined 18 other MBA students on an Asian Field Study academic immersion program that visited Tokyo, Japan; Shanghai, China; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Over the next few weeks, I will recount the best of those adventures here on Drink with Aloha. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed living them.
Of all the cities we visited on our whirlwind tour of Asia, Kuala Lumpur had the best food and, frankly, it wasn’t close. China offered an impressive array of flavors. Vietnam’s fresh vegetables and noodle dishes were sensational. Tokyo’s seafood was pants-wettingly delicious. But, Malaysia… Oh, Malaysia. Nestled between India, Thailand, Singapore, and China, Malaysia delivers a culinary explosion of epic proportions. The combination of diverse cultural influences and intense flavors provide an unrivaled gastronomical experience. You can’t trip and fall in Malaysia without landing in a bowl of delicious peanut curry noodle soup, chili pepper crab, or something else really cool you’ve probably never heard of before. Malaysia is the hipster of culinary paradises.
Ironically, during our stay in the Mecca of meals, our group met with the management of Chili’s. Yes, Chili’s. The fried food, microwave-happy haven of genericized underwhelming tex-mex slop… and onion blossoms. (I’m grudgingly obligated to give credit for anything as sensational as a flowering mound of friend onion glory. Congratulations, Chili’s. Your epic failure is not all encompassing.) For some reason, the group decided to compound the bizarre decision to visit Chili’s with an even more perplexing decision to eat at Chili’s. Why they decided to do so is still unknown to me. We were hanging out at the Megan Fox pajama party of food destinations and the group decided to go home and curl up with a bowl of Kraft macaroni and cheese and the latest episode of Gossip Girl. At least they had onion blossoms.
Thankfully, CodeRed realized the folly of abandoning the culinary equivalent of a bra-and-panty laden fiesta of a Hollywood starlet regardless of the comforting allure of Gossip Girl. While the group dined on soggy, microwaved, fried congealed meat parts, CodeRed and I hit the food court of the mall for some Indian Food.
Feeling happy about my meal choice, I decided to add a flourish to my lunch with a refreshing Malaysian iced tea. I perused the iced tea section of the menu and my eyes caught a glimpse of something called an “Iced Kacang”. It sounded awful, probably contained lethal levels of pesticide, and was likely going to be sweet enough to give a giraffe kidney failure, but what the fuck. I was in Malaysia.
I told the server, “I’d like an Iced Ka-Kang”.
He looked at me, cocked his head to the side, smirked, and said, “You like an Iced KaCHONG”?
To which I replied, “YEAH! KA-CHONG ME!”
The next thing I know, this guy grabbed a two liter sized crystal goblet and dumped in a tablespoon of unidentifiable green goo. Next he dusted off a 2000 year old tupperware from underneath the counter and placed two huge scoops of rainbow colored gelatinous blocks in the oozing center of the goo lake. He followed this up with a sizable handful of what appeared to be mochi.
At this point, I realized that I was probably not getting an iced tea and that I should probably make a break for it and abandon the growing shame in glass being built in front me, but I was too embarrassed to admit my mistake to Captain KaChong.
After scooping seven bubble-teas worth of gelatinous mass into a goblet, my new best friend moved my goblet under a three foot tall giant mechanical contraption that resembled an industrial size lathe and placed a block of ice on top of the machine. He then proceeded to flip a switch on the device, which made the counter, the floor and my molars start to shake and set in motion a series of events that filled my jell-o-goblet with a two foot high mound of shaved ice. The pile was the size of a small watermelon.
After making the ball of ice big enough to sustain an Eskimo community for a few weeks, he drenched the ice city with eight different types of syrup, ranging in flavor from durian to what I can only guess was some type of tree bark. He had a look of bemused satisfaction as he incorporated every type of bizarre, questionable, seriously-we-made-this-just-to-fuck-with-tourists flavor imaginable. But, we were not done yet. Oh no. Not by a long shot. An iced KaChong is so much more than a green goo based, gelatinous covered hot mess of a shave ice.
The Chong Ranger sprinkled crushed peanuts over the top of the cantaloupe-on-steroids sized rainbow ice mound. Then he whipped out an economy sized can of condensed milk and attempted to put my train-wreck of a dessert out of its misery by drowning it in warm, sticky, sweet, milk.
Thinking he must be finished, I motioned to pick up my cold, sticky goblet of shame. Not so fast. Mr. Dessert Malaysia 2012 smiled and wagged a finger in my direction, letting me know that my embarrassment was not nearly complete. With a flourish, he dipped a big silver spoon into a large plastic tub of creamed corn and draped a sizable mound on top the shave ice from Hell. His large smile indicated that he took no small amount of pleasure from putting the coup de gras atop the great KaChong. He placed a metal spoon the size of a salad tong on my plate (apparently, you’re supposed to shovel your KaChong down at rapid speed) and smiled ear to ear as he slid the plate across the counter towards my look of shock and awe.
He gave me two huge thumbs up and shouted “KACHONG!” Either he was intimately aware of the unforgettable mistake I had made or he thought I was the coolest, whitest Malaysian of all time.
I examined the icy sea of technilcolor sticky corn goo as I walked back to the table. As soon as CodeRed saw the look on my face and the cup of disgrace on my tray, he started laughing uncontrollably.
I shoved my icy failure into the middle of the table and tried to forget about it as I polished off my Indian food. CodeRed and I eyed the slowly melting shame glacier while we ate our lunch. When I finished the rest of my meal, I took a deep breath, summoned my nerve, picked up the world’s largest serving spoon and took a big bite of chong. The experience was a mixture of sweet, salty, fruity, savory, stickiness, ice, crunch and, of course, corn. Sweet and salty corn. Because nothing brings a shave ice together quite like a large helping of sweet, salty, soggy corn.
I gingerly scooped a few jell-o nugs out of the chong in an attempt to find some vague redeeming value in the icy mistake. No such luck. The gelatin nuggets popped and crunched in my mouth like a fruity eye ball, releasing a sweet goo injection into my throat at rapid speed. Awesome.
Finally, I admitted defeat at the hand of the great Chong and laid down my weapon.
I invited Cody to have a bite. He politely declined. (I believe his exact words were “There is no fucking way I’m touching the Chong, dude.”) We left the remnants of the slowing melting corn mountain on the table and walked away changed men.
I may not have been man enough to climb the great KaChong Matterhorn, however, I’m vaguely certain that somewhere, in a random shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, you’ll find a picture of my face hanging in the restaurant to commemorate the one and only person without melanin who has ever gone toe to toe with the Great Chong.
I am the George Mallory of iconic Malaysian iced corn desserts.