The best cendol I had during my entire trip in Malaysia was at a food court restaurant where I was given the gula melaka in a separate container to simply choose my desired level of cendol sweetness. There was no stopping halfway because I simply couldn’t stomach anymore sweet sugar flavor. Instead, I was able to fully taste all the other flavors that make up a cendol from the grass jellies to the coconut milk, and in a way that didn’t leave my mouth coated in a syrupy film.
I’m the type of person who always chooses sugar-free (if available) and diet soda instead of the regular — a byproduct of having a diabetic brother. Sure, I might die of some fake sweetener induced cancer later on, but I just can’t have too much sweet in my mouth before I start to feel disgusting. Even a couple of sips of a regular Coke, or even a juice, will leave me downing the water to get that syrupy sweet layer washed away as soon as possible.
Malaysians, on the other hand, have acquired a sweet tooth that I can’t fully understand. If you get any drink — lime juice to coffee and tea — it is layered with a (un)healthy dose of sugar syrup or sweetened condensed milk. I quickly learned my lesson after leaving a few drinks half drunk, and overall just feeling unsettled, that I am not down with the Malaysian sugar fetish. Besides drinks, you will find that the bread is sweet, and even the salty popcorn (if you can find anything besides caramel corn to begin with!) has a sweet undertone.
I just couldn’t understand this until Pat discovered a newspaper article talking about the sugar subsidy in Malaysia. Yes, sugar is subsidized, so it started to make sense.
In the same article, it stated that the average Malaysian consumes 26 teaspoons of sugar daily! That seems like a lot, but I know that as an American I have little room to talk. In my few minutes of research online, I came to a couple of articles that state Americans as having a daily intake of 21.5 or 22 teaspoons on average per day.
Maybe it is the way in which the sugar is presented in Malaysia that causes me so much distress because I love sweets, and I love desserts and chocolates, but I just can’t handle a beverage that is syrupy sweet. No, I want unsweetened iced tea, unsweetened coffee or diet cola as an accompaniment. Diet cola, alone, was rarely on offer in restaurants or food stalls where regular cola was sold (sad face), so I stuck to water. Sweet drinks are just not refreshing in my mind. Instead, I would prefer to have my sugar in cake or cookie form, or as an ingredient in food where it is less noticeable. I guess that’s why I found the sugar fetish in Malaysia so overwhelming.