KULAI (Johor), Sept 28 — Is there a better feeling than when your loved ones take you on a tour of their childhood haunts, from their primary schools to their favourite food places?
Yes, it’s a walk down someone else’s memory lane but it’s a comfortable stroll and a most heartwarming one.
Which is why we are dropping by Happy Land in Kulai, Johor for their signature ais kacang. It’s a long-awaited return for one of us, a first time visiting for the other.
The shop is already bustling with customers when we arrive. The signage announces that this is Happy Land Cafeteria, though Kulai residents and regulars from elsewhere know it only as Happy Land Ais Kacang.
Its name in Chinese — “Huānlè Yuán Yǐn Bīng Shì” — translates to “Happy Garden Ice Drinking Room” which has more than one layer of meaning.
A bīng shì, more popularly known as bing sutt in Hong Kong, is basically a “cold drinking house” where one has light meals and drinks. The most prominent feature of a bing sutt menu is the hung dau bing (“red bean ice” in Cantonese).
Look for a shop sign that says Happy Land Cafeteria.
It is this signature item that drives Happy Land Ais Kacang, albeit our far more varied Malaysian concoction.
First, a base of slippery smooth cendol (pandan threads) and cincau (grass jelly). Emerald and ebony, for a fine foundation.
Then a mountain of finely shaved ice, followed by spoonfuls of slowly cooked red beans, soft but still retaining their shape. Some creamed sweet corn and chewy attap seeds, and you have a bowl designed to stun even the most jaded of gourmands.
Just as a traditional bing sutt is very neighbourhood-oriented, so it is with Happy Land Ais Kacang.
Happy Land Cafeteria is bustling with regular clientele.
Folks from all walks of life come and go. The tables turn over swiftly as diners leave as soon as they are done, to make space for the other customers. It’s common to dap toi (“share a table” in Cantonese).
Age is a surprising common denominator here, as in there is no one age range that dominates. There are families with small kids and grandparents, college kids out for a sweet date, friends in their 40s and 50s having a nostalgic class reunion.
The latter group is especially touching to see, when you realise they were probably coming here for their ais kacang after school since the shop first opened in 1976!
For lovers of cocoa, try their Ice Kacang Chocolate. (The mix of English and Malay in the spelling just makes one feel right at home.) You can never go wrong with an extra dose of chocolate syrup and dusting of cocoa powder.
For lovers of cocoa, try their Ice Kacang Chocolate.
Others might prefer fruitier flavours. Try the tangy Ice Mango, with enough cubes of fresh mango to sweeten even the dourest of days, or Ice Longan Milk for something creamier.
Those craving something savoury too can order from the two stalls at the entrance of the shop: char kway teow from one; nasi lemak and freshly fried chicken from the other.
Generations gather for light bites and nostalgic ices. Truly this is a “happy land” and a room filled with satisfied, smiling faces.
Generations gather for light bites and nostalgic ices.
Count us in this blessed group for though we have come here for the ais kacang, we also decide to try their rojak which turns out to be the surprising highlight of our meal.
How winning is the nutty, thick and rich sauce! Redolent of hae ko (prawn paste), the aromatic sauce coats every shard of turnip and pineapple (as well as the occasional nugget of crunchy yau char kwai). All topped with the requisite shower of crushed peanuts.
Best of all, for someone who loathes cuttlefish, Happy Land’s version is free of this ghastly mollusc. (Its fans may lament its absence, however.)
The surprising highlight is the ‘rojak’, with a nutty, thick and rich sauce.
Happy Land Ais Kacang is not quite a place “where everybody knows your name” (the famous catchline from 1980s TV series, Cheers) but one where generations gather and familiar faces pop up unexpectedly.
It’s a coffee shop that serves a community. Or, to make it simpler and truer, it is a community.And it’s a nice feeling, to feel that we belong.
Happy Land Cafeteria 欢乐园饮冰室
16, Jalan Pinang, Taman Kota Kulai, Kulai, Johor
Open daily (except Mon closed) 11:30am-4:30pm
Phone: 07-353 3543
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