In the corner of a Bangsar café, I’m sitting with the founders of The Last Polka, quite literally chewing over the subject of ice cream. “It’s too sticky,” says Ee Vee, decisively. She tells me that she plans to tweak the fudge pieces in one of their latest flavours. She and her business partner May Yee continue to evaluate the ice cream, while I nod and keep eating.
I’m here to sample the latest inventions from The Last Polka: two new ice cream flavours that have been created for the inaugural Cooler Lumpur Festival. This year, the theme is #Word and The Last Polka’s new flavours are both inspired by children’s books. As one of the festival curators, I’m taking the tasting session extremely seriously – several spoonfuls at a time.
It’s hard to find people who’ve tasted The Last Polka’s ice cream and not become instant converts. Their ice cream is rich, indulgent and also highly inventive. Since starting the business three years ago, the company has become known for distinctive flavours like Salted Gula Melaka, Pandan Kaya and even Horlicks. Their loyal fan following stretches across the Klang Valley, where the ice cream retails at 14 cafés.
But it wasn’t always so simple. What started as a kitchen hobby for between friends became a full-time business only after a lot of eggs – both literal and metaphorical – were broken. Both girls left their corporate jobs to launch The Last Polka, which began life as a website with a simple order form. “For the first few days, we just obsessively refreshed the page,” says May Yee. “Our aunts were our first customers!” Ee Vee adds.
As word of mouth spread, May Yee and Ee Vee would find themselves stationed at various pick up points, where people could drive by conveniently to collect their pints of ice-cream. “Those were dodgy days,” says May Yee. “People would swing by Tropicana and throw us money and we’d fling the ice cream to them. The security guards would be all like, ‘apa ni?’”
This unusual sales technique, however, found the girls new friends among customers, who would often stay to chat. For The Last Polka, which set out to be a local brand, it was definitely a ground-up approach. Eventually their ice cream was noticed by Lyrical Lemongrass, a food blogger, and then by KLue magazine. A retail offer from The Bee followed soon after.
As well as their regular range of flavours, The Last Polka has worked on several collaborations and limited edition ice creams. They have named an ice cream after local musician OJ Law, created a special ice cream sandwich for Urbanscapes and also came up with a Kopi C flavour for the recent elections. Later this year, they will also create a flavour for the comedian Kuah Jenhan.
“People always ask us what are we inspired by. A lot of it is hard to explain. It’s food we smell, people we meet. The Last Polka is trying to recreate very Malaysian experiences. Tastes, textures, smells from our childhoods. These people and brands we collaborate with are also part of that,” they tell me.
For #Word: The Cooler Lumpur Festival, The Last Polka have used children’s books as the inspiration for their new flavours. One flavour, named after Dr Seuss’s book Green Eggs and Ham, is their take on a mint choc chip, where the flavour comes from fresh mint leaves and the choc chips are upgraded to fudge brownie pieces.
The second flavour is aimed at a more grown-up palate: it’s a butterscotch ice cream with walnut and black pepper brittle called “Wonderland”. The black pepper is taken from the part of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland where Alice finds herself sneezing from peppery soup. The combination is irresistible, with the sweet butterscotch and mellow crunch of walnut enhanced by the subtle bite of pepper.
“We wanted to do this because, to put it simply, it’s a very cool idea,” says May Yee. “Food and literature is a magical combination.” Asked their favourite food moments in books, May Yee instantly recalls the chocolate river and rainbow popsicles in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Ee Vee, meanwhile, waxes lyrical on the “bizarre flavours” in the Harry Potter series.
“Books and literature are such an important part of our lives and culture,” says Ee Vee, adding that the younger generation in Malaysia are always told they don’t read enough. Doing their part to win small hearts – and stomachs – over to reading, The Last Polka will serving up their ice cream at a Children’s Tea Party at the festival, sponsoring 50 free cups of ice cream for children who attend the free storytelling session, which is also supported by Borders Malaysia.
For the larger children among us, there’s a chance to taste the ice cream from the 4 June, when The Last Polka’s two limited edition ice creams will launch for a month at the Bee, Publika. The two ice cream flavours will also be on sale with a discount during the three day festival. Reader, you’ll want to marry them.
#Word: The Cooler Lumpur Festival will be 21-23 June at Publika.
Disclosure: The Cooler Lumpur Festival is produced by PopDigital. The same parent company also owns and publishes Poskod.my. (Updated 29/05/2013).
Correction: The title of the book Alice in Wonderland was amended to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (Updated 29/05/2013).
Photos by Ling Low