Beverages – Tropical Thirst Quenchers

In hot and humid Malaysia, one often needs to quench a thirst, and this is easily done with the selection of local drinks that’s available at any stall or eatery. Despite the tropical weather, the drink that’s most popular, and often considered the national drink, is a hot beverage called teh tarik, which literally means “pulled tea”. Consisting of black tea and susu pekat (sweetened condensed milk), the drink is made by pouring the tea and milk mixture back and forth, between two mugs. Skilled teh tarik makers would usually hold one mug high and the other low. This pouring action not only helps to cool the tea down, but gives it a nice, frothy top.

Besides teh tarik, Malaysians also love a good cup of coffee, with the most popular being “white coffee.” Originating from Ipoh, Perak, white coffee has a distinctive taste, because the coffee beans are roasted with palm-oil margarine. While roasted coffee holds its own, an instant coffee brand called Nescafé, has also become a national favourite. However, the two beverage brands that will transport most Malaysians back to their childhoods are Milo and Horlicks, which are both malt-based. While these beverages are usually enjoyed hot, they can also be served cold.

If you wish to have any of these drinks chilled, just add the word ais (ice) to your order, for example teh ais or Nescafe ais. In Malaysia, both hot and cold tea, coffee and malt-based drinks are mixed with susu pekat. However, if it’s too rich for your taste buds, just remember to add the term “o” to your order, for example teh o ais or Nescafe o ais. The “o” simply means the susu pekat will be replaced by sugar syrup.

Besides iced tea, coffee and malt drinks, several other chilled local drinks feature susu pekat as a main ingredient. Take karot/lobak susu, for example, which is carrot juice mixed with susu pekat. A humble glass of sirap ais (iced syrup cordial) can be taken up a notch with the addition of susu pekat. When mixed together, it results in a drink called air bandung. The variation, however, doesn’t end there, because if you add cincau (grass jelly) to air bandung, it becomes a drink called bancau. Some air bandung lovers even ask for their favourite beverage to be mixed with ice cream soda, to create what’s often called bandung soda.

While Malaysians are well-known for having a sweet tooth, you can always keep tabs on your sugar intake. Just ask for “kurang manis,” which literally means “less sweet,” so they’ll use less sugar syrup or susu pekat in your beverage of choice. If you want to forgo all that rich and milky flavour altogether, try a tall glass of fresh fruit juice.

Among the most popular fruit juices in Malaysia, are jus epal (green apple), air belimbing (starfruit) and air tembikai (watermelon). If you like tangy flavours, there’s also limau ais (lime) and air kedondong (kedondong), which can both be made even tarter with the addition of asam boi (dried sour plum). For those who prefer something refreshingly sweet, rather than sour, the best drinks to have are air kelapa (young coconut), air tebu (sugar cane) or air soya (soy milk). Drinks made from canned fruit are also popular amongst Malaysians, such as air laici (lychee) and air longan (longan). These days, you can also ask for laici soda, which is lychee mixed with ice cream soda, for a nice, fizzy treat.

So there you have it, a guide to the most popular beverages in Malaysia. Now you know what to order the next time you’re feeling thirsty for local flavour!