During lunch one day, my French husband, V, and I dined at one of his favourite duck restaurants in Bangsar. After finishing our meals, I requested to have dessert. He politely declined after scanning through the dessert menu, which is often rare for his sweet tooth.
Despite living in Malaysia for a considerable amount of time, V is still unable to get past the idea of eating local desserts. To his unaccustomed French palate, the ais kacang, red bean soup, cendol, sago gula melaka, etc. are not what he would categorise as dessert.
As French, he has a whole list of rules about dessert. Shaved ice is what children eat out of natural snow during the winter. Legumes of any sorts are meant for savoury stew or soup. Don’t even get him started on cheese cake, which is not typically Malaysian but nevertheless very popular here. According to him, cheese is meant to be smelly and dessert in essence, should never ever be made out of something that could potentially smell like athlete’s foot.
So when I ordered the guilinggao, V was naturally curious.
I described to him that guilinggao is a dessert made out of black jelly and is eaten cold. It has a bitter taste and that’s why it’s accompanied with honey and longan. I explained that the combination of bitterness and sweetness is rather interesting and tasty.
He looked at me with a confused and bewildered look.
To further convince him, I went on to explain the nutritious properties of the guilinggao and how it benefits the skin and health. I thought when I said it also serves as a natural cooling system for the body, it would win him over since he complains about the heat all the time.
He gave me a sheepish smile and a mocking “hmmmm” when I finished explaining.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
"No, it’s interesting.”
“What’s interesting?” I asked again.
“Well, it’s interesting because in France, a dessert is usually sinful. You know, sugary, rich, creamy, sweet, fattening and if I may also add, appealing to the eyes. The colour, texture, shape, smell. They are all designed to entice you,” he said.
He paused and declared, “What you’ve just described to me is not dessert. It’s medicine. Black? Bitter?” *Snort*
When my “dessert” finally arrived, it didn’t look as appetising anymore.