Saturday, July 28, 2007

Ethnic Iced Dessert Quest - Part 2: Ice Kachang...ka-CHING!

Relax, the Militant Angeleno has not suddenly turned all food blog on you. This is just the second installment in a series to explore ethnic iced desserts found in restaurants around Los Angeles. It's summer, after all. Today the Militant was willing to suffer brain freeze, for you, the reader, in order to present to you ice kachang from Singapore...

The island nation of Singapore (which, as the Militant mentioned recently, can fit inside the San Fernando Valley) is often misunderstood by most Americans. More famous for banning chewing gum and caning spoiled American teenagers, the greatest cultural exposure to Singapore by Americans has probably been the recent flick, Pirates of the Carribbean: At World's End. But in addition to being a Militant Angeleno, the Militant is a Militant Traveler as well, busting stereotypes and preconceived notions to seek what's real. The Singapore he found was high-tech, full of lush tropical greenery, has a few kick-ass shopping malls with nothing but computer/electronics stores, is freaking hot and humid all year long and the biggest discovery of all: has the most awesomest food in the world.

Speaking of the latter two, the country boasts several ice desserts, most of them derived from the traditions of the country's next-door neighbor, Malaysia (which the Militant has actually walked to from Singapore). The most well-known one is ice kachang.

Meaning "ice beans," ice kachang in its most basic form consists of shaved ice and sweet red beans. But different versions found around the island also contain (and come in various combinations thereof) sweet corn, jelly cubes, slices of Southeast Asian fruits like jackfruit or durian and sweetened evaporated milk. Like its Korean cousin binsgu, it's a shaved ice treat enjoyed in the hot weather months. But unlike Korea, Singapore, located just miles north of the equator, has about 12 of them, so ice kachang is enjoyed year-round.

Modern Singapore has fancy restaurants just like any cosmopolitan city. But the real food is found in hawker centres (also known as "hawker stalls"). To the American eye, they just look like busy, steamy, semi-outdoor food courts, but this is truly where it's at in The Lion City. The quality of the food (Singapore's health ministry also employs Los Angeles County-like restaurant letter grades) defies its amazingly inexpensive price, which is the main reason the Militant has visited Singapore more than once.

Because of Singapore's first-world economy and the level of English fluency (it is one of the four official languages of the country, along with Mandarin, Malay and Tamil), there is no Singaporean enclave in Los Angeles (mainly because there's like 14 Singaporeans living in the entire United States), but locally, ice kachang can be best found at Singapore's Banana Leaf, located in our legendary Farmer's Market in the Fairfax District. But the Militant believes SBL couldn't be at a more appropriate place, as Farmer's Market is basically the Los Angeles version of a hawker centre, still lending an authentic feel to the place. Located towards the 3rd street side of the market, SBL also has amazingly awesome Singaporean dishes like roti paratha, nasi goreng, mee goreng, rojak salad, beef rendang...Whoa! Stop! Wait! Hold on! The Militant must take a moment to cease salivating...

...Okay, the Militant is back. Where was I? Oh yeah, ice kachang. Singapore's Banana Leaf describes their version of the icy dessert as, "Crushed ice, jackfruit, sweet beans, evaporated milk and rose syrup." But the Militant noticed some chewy green jelly cubes mixed in as well. The Militant had his ice kachang on a warm, Saturday evening just coming out of work. But his glorious dish of ice kachang was starting to melt faster than a polar ice cap, so he quickly picked up the slices of jackfruit, dug into the ice, (AAAARGH! BRAINFREEZE!!) revealing the red beans (AAAARGH! BRAINFREEZE AGAIN!!) embedded underneath like buried treasure. The jackfruit slices were a bold declaration of the dish's Southeast Asian origin, which set it apart from the earlier-featured Korean bingsu of the northern latitudes.

Not unlike other stalls in Farmer's Market, the place has a counter with a menu display. But it does have its own set of tables, or rather one table row, which is nicely decorated with a batik pattern tablecloth, accompanied by rattan chairs.

Perhaps the young lady sitting on the other side of the table should have had some ice kachang, as she briefly prior to suffering a heat-related fainting spell (she was okay later on with a little help from the SBL staff and her friend). Just like in Singapore, on a hot summer's day, the rule of law is that this has to be eaten ASAP and on the spot. If not, you'll get caned (actually, you won't, but you'll just end up with a watery slush).

Other sources of ice kachang can be found in the area's Malaysian restaurants, like Yazmin in Alhambra and West Covina's Penang. The Militant also welcomes reader-submitted suggestions on where to find ice kachang.

Ice Kachang (Singapore)

Singapore's Banana Leaf in Farmer's Market
6333 W. 3rd St.
Fairfax District

Item: Ice Kachang, $4.55

1 comment:

Raven said...

Hmm, I had no idea that Singapore's Banana Leaf even existed. I think I'll try them next time I'm in the Farmer's Market. Maybe not for the shaved ice, though, since the weather is cooling off.