Drive in and get your burnt cendol
Writer: Lin Zhen Yuan
Published: Fri, 22 Feb 2013
Every kampung has its story. In Assam Jawa where LIN ZHENYUAN was a passing guest, the short visit left a lingering sweet taste.
ANY road trip that extends to Kuala Selangor and beyond will involve Route 54. This particular route takes you past Assam Jawa, a small town in the district of Kuala Selangor.
Federal Route 54 is also called Jalan Kuala Selangor-Kepong. It links Assam Jawa to Kepong. It now stands in the shadow of the Latar Expressway or the KL-Kuala Selangor Expressway.
For decades there was nothing special about this place unless you like grass, trees, river and lots of jungle creatures, big or small.
A couple of years ago, an enterprising young woman had a family discussion and was all fired up by the idea of starting a cendol business.
The location is Assam Jawa which is next to the trunk road where motorists have consistently but unconsciously ignored the village for decades.
According to Rifhan Farhan Mohamad Arif, to whom all credit must be given, her grand scheme was to sell “cendol bakar”. Besides being rather catchy as a selling point, burnt cendol, as it were, also had to do with her grandfather’s name, Abu Bakar Saidin.
Her enthusiasm had the encouragement of her father who had more than 20 years’ business experience.
Today, after a couple of entrepreneurial hops, skips and jumps, the family has about seven “cendol bakar” branches.
Business has become so good of late that the menu now boasts a list of cendol variations that include Cendol VIP, Cendol VVIP, Cendol Tapai, Cendol Durian and Cendol Durian Pulut.
If that does not make you stop and order a bowl of one of Malaysia’s favourite desserts then you can sample the slightly ambiguous “keropok udang geragau Melaka”.
As far as Assam Jawa is concerned, I am one of the Johnnys-Come-Lately who finally spotted its colourful banners advertising the area’s specialty after driving through for the fifth time.
Since it was hot, humid and not hazy at this time of the year in that particular stretch of Assam Jawa, I pulled over and checked out its unique selling point.
A number of passers-by and local residents were already having a mini feast and were having their fill of “cendol bakar” when I parked my car.
My co-navigator was most intrigued by another big poster that says “Cendol Bakar Drive Thru”.
I am no stranger to “Drive Throughs” at McDonald’s outlets and other fast food joints in KL city but out there in the boondocks, to see a drive-thru that sells burnt cendol simply demanded a thorough investigation.
According to its founder, burnt cendol is not what it seems. The term was not a sales gimmick.
In reality, it alluded to the process of heating or “burning” of gula merah (brown sugar) that was used in sweetening the cendol.
The not-so-big secret cendol recipe involves rice flour, corn flour, pandan leaves, brown sugar, alkaline water, coconut milk, plenty of ice shavings and perhaps a pinch of salt.
Not every cendol seller uses the same recipe, others who do not want to make a public declaration of their family trade secret will have their own secret concoctions.
In Assam Jawa where Cendol Bakar has added a modicum of fame, the recipe, of course, is Rifhan Farhan’s family treasured secret. Not that any passing motorist wants to ferret out the “other special ingredients”, but it is always good to make an educated guess on what goes into the bowl.
Since its inception, Cendol Bakar Assam Jawa has taken off like a rapidly spreading forest fire. There are branches now in Ijok, Chengkau Ulu, Negeri Sembilan, Batu Tujuh, Tanjung Karang, Kluang railway station in Johor and Sikamat in Seremban.
Next to the cendol stall is a small eatery that offers nasi lemak for breakfast and assam pedas Melaka and masak lomak cili padi for lunch.
Other attractive items include soto, mee jawa, mee kari and laksa. Customers are assured of a satisfying meal because the banner in front of the stall clearly says “Rasa Sekali… Nak lagi”.
After I had ordered two bowls of the VIP Cendol, I sneaked over to the “Rojak King and Cucur Udang” stall. I have a soft spot for cucur udang due to those memorable hungry days during my teenage years.
I stole a look at the kuali or hot wok and noticed that the fried pieces of cucur udang had a lighter colour than the common ones. Naturally, my curiosity got the better of me.
The Malay woman who was the cook suggested that I try a piece. I promptly ordered two pieces. A few minutes later, I found out to my delight that it had a different flavour.
The cucur udang had a unique taste which was delicious without being over the top. When it was dipped in cili sauce, it tasted even better.
After I had finished the cucur udang, I ordered three more as takeaways just in case I got hungry in the night. If I recall correctly, it was two pieces for one ringgit. It was practically a steal. This was after all kampung life which many city citizens were unaware of.
Her husband who helped to run the family stall told me that they were staying just beyond the trees. And there were a lot of trees in the vicinity.
However, I noticed one rambutan tree that was filled with ripe fruits.
Apparently, the owners were not very interested in plucking the fruits. The scene reminded me very much of my childhood days when we had fruit trees in our neighbourhood.
These days, rambutans, mangosteens, guava and starfruits are treated as something special by city folks. Assam Jawa residents, I suppose, have more than their share of these “buah-buahan tempatan”.
This particular section of Assam Jawa which faces the main trunk road could be experiencing minor floods because the ground on which the stalls are doing business are covered with square slabs of rubber.
They add a firm foundation to the place and make it easier for customers to walk steadily. The shacks had attap roofs, long wooden tables and long benches, just like those in kampung cafeterias.
The atmosphere was quite pleasant. Perhaps that was why so many customers make repeat visits. The set-up reminds them of a bygone era that probably holds many nostalgic memories.
Assam Jawa personifies the agriculture facet of the landscape where fruit trees are cultivated alongside with rubber and coconut plantations, padi fields and oil palm estates.
But for the present, the arguably biggest news about Assam Jawa is Cendol Bakar where it lords over the other hawker stalls.