Malaysian Childhood Snacks

30 October 2015

Memory and food are interlinked, but why? And why do childhood snacks still bring us back to happier times?

Why do childhood snacks invoke such strong memories? The memories of Malaysian schoolchildren quite possibly include many a hot afternoon after school, racing to the “tuck shop” or the roti man in the evenings to buy these guilty little pleasures. Let’s be honest, while they were a far cry from the organic biscuits we feed our children these days, there was a distinct allure in the consumption of these morsels of delight.

 Science has an answer about this attachment, as it turns out. In John S. Allen’s book The Omnivorous Mind, he posits that food and the digestive system does indeed have a link to the brain, specifically the hippocampus —- the part of the brain that is critical to our memories. The hormones regulating the digestive system have their receptors in the hippocampus. Why? Well, for our ancestors it was so that we would always fondly associate memories with food, for our ultimate survival. Reinforced by memories, the pursuit of food would stir reward centres, especially if said food was sweet. As it turns out, humans are biologically inclined to have a sweet tooth!

 Here’s a collection of some of our favourite childhood snacks:

 Haw Flakes

This fairly unknown ingredient hails from China, where it is known quite simple as “big red fruit.” Bless its makers’ heart, for it has satisfied many a child in Asia since its discovery. Little sour and sweet discs, often used in sacrilegious rituals by young Catholic schoolchildren, its appeal has not decreased since. It was also often also used to bribe classmates as looked like coins.


A precursor to our current Nutella obsession? Maybe. At 20 cents a pop, it was every child’s favourite chocolate snack. It came in an interesting little tube, which caused a lot of stress and hardship at times, trying to squeeze as much chocolate out from the packaging before the whole experience was over.

 Iced Gems

Little drops of coloured icing on tiny biscuits. Who were we all kidding? We ate the icing and saved the biscuits for later, or gasp!, threw them away! Never underestimate the power of sweets and vibrant colours where children are involved.


Savoury and almost like a meal, Mamee was basically crispy ramen eaten with seasoning. Everyone had a preference of course,—some without the seasoning, no doubt after a telling off from their parents about the effects of flavour enchancers. However, on days where one was particularly adventurous —- one could take an unopened packed of Mamee, crush it a little, then pour the seasoning over and shake the packet for the ultimate savoury reward!

 White Rabbit sweets

So good it was even given to a former American president (Nixon, in case you were wondering). White Rabbit sweets have thrilled schoolchildren for decades. Sweet like nougat and a reminder of hot, boiled milk as it were, and all in an edible wrapper! Really, what’s not to like here?

Ice Pops

Frozen coloured ice. Growing up in a tropical country, these frozen delights were a treat after school. It would turn your mouth a brilliant blue, green or pink and for those with particularly exotic palates, the ones with the sour asam boi were a great hit.

 The Famed MILO truck

The school would inform everyone weeks ahead of the MILO truck’s arrival and everyone would wait in anticipation. Long lines and a carnival atmosphere was pretty consistent at every MILO truck’s arrival. It was a taste that could never be replicated at home, or anywhere else save the MILO truck itself.

Apollo Layer Cake and Wafers

Let’s just put it out there that basically anything Apollo made and sold to the ubiquitous “roti man” was a childhood favourite. From the soft buttery layer cakes, or key lapis  as its called, to its chocolate filled wafers, best shared with friends.

 Marukawa Bubble Gum

The ultimate rebel’s snack - you can blow the sweet-sour gum, pop it to the annoyance of teachers and parents and tattoo yourself with the stick-ons that were so generously provided.

Byline: Michelle Gunaselan
Date: 29 September 2015

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