Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Just desserts

If Samuel Johnson had been obsessed with Asian sweets instead of lexicography, he might have put together something like this.

I found myself missing Asia terribly after reading Belle's post. Especially Singapore, which is safe enough to go traipsing about everywhere on foot, finding good things to eat pretty much wherever you go. My ex-girlfriend and I spent months in a guesthouse near the world-renowned Komala Vilas, the peerless Rochor Beancurd and the original branch of the Selera Restaurant, justly famous for its curry puffs. Good times.

Also, Magnolia brand ice cream from the Philippines; heavens, the flavors! Macapuno (young coconut), mango and these one-of-a-kind chocolate popsicles. It's easy enough to find coconut and mango ice cream in the West of superior quality to Magnolia, but I have yet to find a substitute for the chocolate ice lollies. They are not fudgesicles. Fudgesicles soften before dissolving and leave a residue that lingers on the tongue. Magnolia chocolate popsicles somehow manage to satisfy one's chocolate jones and refresh one's palate at the same time. Kind of like a very, very light chocolate sorbet but crystallized into crunchiness. And on a stick.

I'm going to have to go ahead (yeah) and accuse Belle of Western prejudice (but in a nice way) for her distaste of sweetcorn as a dessert ingredient. Almost all Western uses of sweetcorn are savory, but it is called sweetcorn after all. The only common "sweet" use of sweetcorn is corn muffins, which I doubt Belle finds disgusting. It's probably not the sweet flavor she minds so much in desserts such as corn ice cream but the texture of the hull. I have the same problem with the use of red beans. I won't touch red bean desserts unless the beans were hulled. Otherwise, it's just nasty. My mother used to make this corn pudding that was halfway between an American cornbread and a British suet pudding. I've heard of savory variants, one with chives and cheddar, another with bell peppers. But leave those ingredients out and you have a dish that wouldn't raise any eyebrows if served as a dessert. It resembles nothing so much like spotted dick's American cousin, and what is spotted dick after all but a Yorkshire pud with a couple handfuls of currants thrown in, eh?

As an aside, Westerners are sometimes unaware of the reasons behind the use of soft textures in Chinese cuisine, such as tong shuei (dessert soups) and luohan tsai (Buddha's Delight). The reason is simple. Soft textured dishes can be enjoyed by the toothless, that is, the very, very young and the very, very old.