Just think of all those women on the Titanic who said, 'No, thank you' to dessert that night. And for what?
If you agree with the sentiment above, then it is time to treat yourself to some Malaysian desserts. Malaysian desserts know nothing of healthy eating — they're laden with coconut milk and sugar! This entry will cover desserts and drinks which are common to Malaysia. However, the majority of these desserts and drinks are also common to other countries in the region such as Singapore.
Before we start, just a little background history. Malaysia is a country mostly composed of three different races: Malays, Chinese and Indians. Therefore, the food available is distinctly different for each of the cultures.
These desserts and drinks can be found in most hawker centres and food courts in Malaysia, as well any restaurant serving Malaysian cuisine. Roadside stalls are also common for desserts such as cendol and tau fu fah.
For Those With a Sweet Tooth
Ais Batu Campur
Ais Batu Campur (ah-es bah-to cham-pour; literally, 'mixed ice cubes') is known also as ABC and Ice Kacang (literally 'red bean ice'). It is made of a base of red beans, peanuts, grass jelly, cendol, agar-agar and sweetcorn, topped with a generous lot of shaved ice1. Rose syrup and evaporated milk are then drizzled over the heap of ice. Other ingredients such as banana, palm seed, fruit cocktail and different coloured jellies can be added to the list above.
Agar-agar (ah-ga ah-ga) means 'jelly' in the Malaysian language. This is different from the other jelly that is available in packets from the supermarket. Agar-agar is harder and does not melt in the heat. It is made from seaweed, which means Muslims are permitted to eat it. It is sold as a powder or as strips of washed and dried seaweed (usually in bundles tied with raffia string). Agar-agar is prepared by boiling the jelly in water until the solids dissolve and then adding colouring, fruit pieces and sugar. It is then poured into moulds, where it can set without refrigeration.
Aiskrim potong (ah-es-krim poh-thong; literally, 'cut ice-cream') is an old favourite, though it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. The flavours available are very Malaysian: red bean, rose syrup, durian, pandan, creamed corn and jack fruit. They are made from coconut milk or milk, flavoured with the various ingredients. They taste different from Western ice creams as they are not as creamy and have a slight starchy taste as they melt because of the ingredients used.
One snack which is not widely available anymore is the ice ball. Ice balls were once available at road-side stalls and were compacted ice shavings which were then covered in rose syrup or orange juice and served in a newspaper cone.
Bubur cha-cha (boo-boor cha-cha) is a hot or cold dessert which consists of sweet potato and yam cubes cooked in coconut milk and sago. The sweet potato and yam cubes are boiled until soft in water. Pandan leaves, sugar and salt are then added. When all the sugar has dissolved, the heat is turned off and the fresh coconut milk is added. The sago is boiled separately until the sago balls become translucent; then it is spooned into the mixture. This dessert is sweet as well as fragrant because of the coconut milk.
The most interesting ingredient in cendol (chen-doll) are the thin, green, worm-like, pandan-flavoured flour noodles. These are topped with gula melaka (palm sugar) and a whole lot of coconut milk and shaved ice. Once the ice has melted, it looks like a brown soup with green worms. This may not sound appetising, but it is in fact a very popular dessert. Additional ingredients could include red bean, sweet corn and grass jelly.
A refreshing Chinese dessert which consists of a clear brown soup with lotus seeds, agar-agar strips, white fungus, dried longans, barley, gingko nuts and sliced water chestnuts. It has a subtle sweet taste and can be served both hot and cold.
Usually served in Chinese restaurants, this dessert consists of fresh honeydew melon cubes which are served in a chilled bowl of coconut milk. Sago pearls are then added to this mixture.
Kuih (coo-ehh) include cakes, cookies and pastries. However, kuih are different from the Western conception of cakes and pastries. Kuih are bite-sized, sweet or savoury creations which are mostly steamed. Different varieties of kuih can be found in the different states of Malaysia.
The base of the kuihs usually consists of glutinous rice, tapioca, tapioca flour and rice flour. They are then flavoured with ingredients such as grated coconut, coconut cream, pandan and gula melaka. There are many types of kuih — some are layered, wrapped, filled and even deep-fried. Below are some of the more usual types:
Kuih lapis (layer cake) — This colourful kuih is made by alternating colourful layers (usually red, pink and green) made of butter, eggs and sugar. The creation is a time-consuming process, as the layers are each about 2mm thick and have to be made and baked separately before being layered on top of each other.
Kuih talam (tray cake) — This kuih has two layers. The top consists of a white layer made from coconut milk and rice flour, whereas the bottom layer is green and is made from green pea flour flavoured with pandan.
Kuih serimuka — Also two-layered. The top layer is green and is made from coconut milk and rice flour with pandan juice. The bottom later is steamed glutinous rice.
Onde-onde — Bite-sized balls which contain a filling of gula melaka, which is covered with glutinous rice and then rolled in grated coconut.
Pulut inti — Wrapped in banana leaf in the shape of a pyramid, this kuih consists of glutinous rice with a covering of caramelised coconut flesh.
Peanut Pancake (Ban Jian Kway)
This may be a little harder to locate as it is a Hokkien speciality and therefore mainly available in towns which have a large Hokkien population, such as Penang and Taiping. Ground peanut paste is sandwiched between two flour pancakes and then fried on a grill. Eat while hot and crispy.
Perhaps not so much a dessert as a snack, pisang goreng (pee-sung goh-reng; fried banana) is a local favourite. Banana slices are coated in batter and then deep-fried.
Pulut hitam (poo-loot hee-tham) is a traditional Malay dessert which is made of black glutinous rice cooked with sago, longan flesh, gula melaka and pandan leaves. It is served hot with a side of coconut milk. It is a very filling dessert which has a subtle sweetness and is creamy (depending on the amount of coconut milk you choose to pour on it).
Tau Fu Fah
Tau fu fah is soyabean curd. It is served in either a clear, sweet syrup or a gula melaka syrup. The soyabean curd is very smooth and it slips right down your throat. This dessert can be found in vans that can be found in certain neighbourhoods which sell both soyabean milk and tau fu fah.
For Those Who Still Want to Eat Healthy
Malaysia has a wide variety of fresh fruit available which can be obtained from roadside stalls, whole or cut. The stinky durian is a favourite among the locals. Other local stinky fruit include the jackfruit and cempedak2. Local fruits also include mangosteen, rambutan, langsat, pineapple, lychee, longan, mata kucing, bananas3 and starfruit.
Even though it shares its name with the provincial capital of West Java, Indonesia, bandung (bhan-doong) is a very Malay drink. It consists of condensed milk with rose syrup. This results in a pink drink which is very sweet. A variation of this is 'bandung cino', which is bandung topped with whipped cream.
Known also as the black-white drink, Michael Jackson or MJ, soya cincau (soh-yah chin-chau) consists of soyabean drink (the white) and strips of grass jelly4 (the black).
If this concoction is a little too daunting at first, why not try them separately? Cincau is mixed with a syrup which is delicious to have on a hot day — the cincau gives a nice crunch to the drink and lots of fun can be had trying to suck it all up by using your straw.
Teh tarik (teh tah-reek) is a Malaysian speciality! Mainly available at mamak food shops5, this very sweet concoction is made of strong tea with condensed milk, which is then 'pulled'6. 'Pulling' is the action of transferring the mixture from one mug which is held high to another which is held below it repeatedly7. This will result in the frothing of the tea when served and mixes the condensed milk more thoroughly with the tea. A more health-conscious society which still enjoys its teh tarik will ask for it 'kurang manis' — with less sugar.