Written by: Samantha Chang
“Bagai kacang melupakan kulit” – A person who forgets their origins or heritage.
Admittedly, I’m not as Malaysian as I would like to be.
To paint a picture:
- I recently went to a pasar malam and my first thought was “hygiene, much?”;
- I know juuuust enough Malay to make small talk with a Grab driver (and I don’t know any of our other secondary languages); and
- 90% of the media I consume is Eurocentric to a degree.
It wasn’t the plan, honestly. And it does sadden me – partly because I sometimes feel disconnected from my fellow countrymen, mostly because I never learnt how to order char kuey teow in my own supposed language.
But Malaysian food is a language that everyone here speaks – it humbly and silently bridges all cultural gaps. I love our childhood snacks because they’re nostalgic, unique, and quintessentially Malaysian: people can call me a banana, compare me to a skinless, forgetful peanut, and mock me with every creative, food-related label (I’m not even insulted – actually impressed), but they can’t take away my memories of sharing a Bika with my friends after school, bought from the roti man.
However, it’s quite possible nostalgia is giving me rose-coloured glasses of these snacks. Maybe it’s time for an objective re-evaluation of them – with newly refined adult palettes. So here are Malaysian childhood snacks: revisited, reviewed and ranked in descending order.
10. Choki choki
The most salient feature of this snack is its distinct tube packaging that you suck the chocolate out from, which will either be the dealbreaker or the dealmaker for you. Honestly, I was biased against it from the get go – it bugged me ever since I was a child. It’s messy, gross and I’m too malas to work for the chocolate. Although, recently a friend told me that it was originally designed to be squeezed out and spread on toast – but let’s face it, that’s lagi not going to happen.
Also, maybe I’m too used to dark chocolate, but the first thought that hit me was that it was way too sugary. Come to think of it, it tastes eerily similar to baking chocolate… could it be?
But the texture is nice and creamy, and they get brownie points for even daring (and arguably pulling off) the strange selling point that is their packaging.
Its pleasant coffee flavour is quite subtle – for better or for worse. Turns out, I’m really impatient and I just end up chewing it, which is not advisable. As with any hard candy, its texture is kind of brittle and sharp. Also, it coats my throat with an uncomfortable film after a while. It’s not bad, but it’s doomed to be a reception desk candy.
Well, I mean, if you go into this expecting a bakery-fresh pandan chiffon cake, that’s on you, mate. It does have its flaws – for example, it’s slightly powdery to the touch, and it sometimes feels like you’re biting into cotton – but it has that signature, fragrant pandan scent which automatically makes everything lovely. Pandan is pretty much the zenith of Malaysian cooking.
Real talk – Sugus is to Fruit Plus what Pizza Hut is to Domino’s (hint: it’s better).
Surprisingly, its orange flavor was fresh and citrusy, and not as syrupy sweet as I remembered. Still, I can’t have more than 2 at a time before my throat starts to go “ABORT MISSION”. It stuck to my teeth in typical taffy fashion: a sensation I used to enjoy, but now find a bit tiresome – like that clingy guy who won’t stop texting you.
Fun fact: these bad boys are already 70 years old! They were eating this in wartime Malaya! (Although… maybe not, what with the rations and all.) I hope this signature green packaging will still be instantly recognisable in the years to come.
I’m a big fan of these because they’re cheaper than most mint brands and they’re not overly sweet. They are pretty thin, however, and do break apart quite fast. Still, it’s a straightforward, solid, no nonsense mint – I like it for its simplicity and character.
5. Haw flakes
An underdog classic.
Its mild tanginess is a welcome change after all the sweet candy I’ve had. It does toe the line of being a bit too plain, but weirdly enough, I think its most attractive feature is its light, brittle texture. It crumbles apart so quickly in my mouth that I think “where did you go to?” and instantly reach for more. I might have finished one too many rows of these – well, at least it’s made out of fruit.
4. Lot 100
These were always present on the coffee table at my grandpa’s house during CNY. I’m immediately hit with a strong fruity scent upon tearing open the packet, and while that would have made me gone “ooh” as a child, now I’m just –
That aside, it has a delightful, fruity flavor and a fun squishy texture that’s honestly better than any gummy bear I’ve tasted. I think children and adults alike can appreciate it. It’s a fruit gummy – you can’t go wrong with it. Unless it’s the Sour+ version, in which case, booooo.
3. Want Want biscuits
Oh boy, here we go. When I was a kid, it was probably not a good idea to have these in the house because a whole packet would be gone before sundown. I hope I wasn’t the only one who was fatally addicted to these – I mean, these were the original finger lickin’ good.
I’m not sure if it’s just that my hands are bigger, but the first thing that struck me was that they downsized! They also changed the recipe or added less flavouring – it’s not as potent as it used to be and there’s less seasoning coating it, which I can honestly get behind. It still makes a gorgeous, loud crunch – I remember trying to sneakily eat these in class, but the sound made it impossible.
2. Iced Gem Biscuits
They look like party decorations and they taste like a party. Plus they’re so cute and fun sized – perfect for tiny hands. I distinctly remember biting off the sugar icing and leaving the biscuits as a child – but now I can appreciate the addictive crunch that they provide. The icing dissolves into pleasing little granules of sugar which gives it a nice crisp texture. Seriously – it’s so easy to keep going.
I know I’m not the only one charmed by them because they’ve got a whole nation obsessed. There are so many adorable arts and crafts inspired by them!
1. White rabbit sweet
Its manufacturers must have specifically engineered it to be a nostalgia machine – that’s the only justification for its perfection in this regard. Firstly, it smells and tastes like milk powder – to remind you of infanthood. It’s white, pillow soft and cylindrical, much like your childhood bolster. Lastly, THE EDIBLE ‘PLASTIC’ RICE PAPER – it has filled our childlike hearts with wonder and has captured our collective imaginations. God knows humans love to think something is inedible, put it in their mouths anyway, and be pleasantly surprised.
The iconic candy is loved both locally and globally, which makes it a well-deserved number one. To be honest I’d probably eat this even if it were made out of actual white rabbits. It’s comforting, gooey and cute – an easy favourite.
Thanks for reading!
Did we miss out on any snacks? Leave your favourites in the comments below!