In the tropical Malaysian heat, the best way to round off a meal is by having a richly-flavoured local dessert. While Malaysian desserts can be served either warm or cold, one of the most popular and well known is the ice-cold ais kacang. While the name literally means “iced nuts,” ais kacang consists of an array of ingredients. Firstly, a block of ice is shaved finely by machine and the shaved ice is piled up high in a bowl. Then, a variety of condiments are added to the shaved ice, including coloured sago pearls, cincau (grass jelly) cubes, attap seeds, sweet corn, red beans, agar agar cubes and roasted peanuts. Sometimes, nata de coco and raisins are also added. This concoction is then generously flavoured with green and red sugared syrup, gula Melaka (palm sugar) and susu cair (evaporated milk). Some versions of this dessert even include a scoop of ice cream on top.
The nation’s second favourite dessert item has got to be cendol. The basic variety features its namesake, the “cendol,” which is green jelly noodles made of rice flour, as well as shaved ice, santan (coconut milk) and gula Melaka. Special versions of this dessert include red beans, sweet corn and glutinous rice.
While cold desserts are a well-needed relief on hot days, warm desserts offer comfort whatever the weather. Most warm Malaysian desserts originated in Malay and Nyonya kitchens long ago.
The most famous of them all, is bubur cha cha, which consists of cooked yam and sweet potato cubes, sago pearls, santan and gula Melaka. Equally popular are bubur kacang hijau and bubur kacang merah. Bubur kacang hijau is a porridge-like dessert made by cooking mung beans and sago pearls with water, santan and gula Melaka. Meanwhile bubur kacang merah is made by cooking red beans in water and sugar. Bubur pulut hitam, on the other hand, is made of black glutinous rice, cooked with water and sugar, and served with a dollop of thick, slightly salted santan.
Santan and gula Melaka are once again the main flavouring agents in the warm Malay dessert called pengat. In pengat, bananas, tapioca, pumpkin, durian or jackfruit is cooked with water, santan and gula Melaka, often with sago pearls for added texture. Usually, when making warm desserts, a knot of daun pandan (screwpine) is added during the cooking process to lend a distinct fragrance.
Chinese desserts are also well-loved throughout the country, with the most famous being leng chee kang (sweet lotus drink). The ingredients for this dessert varies from place to place, but the most common are boiled lotus seeds, lily bulbs, gingko nuts and quail egg, along with soaked malva nuts, basil seeds and dried longans, served in a watery rock sugar syrup. Other favourites are tau fu fa, which is a very soft tofu served in either white sugar syrup or gula Melaka, and tong yuan, which are glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame, peanut or red bean paste and served either in sugar syrup or sweetened soy milk.
For a sweet treat with a touch of spice, Malaysians head to Indian eateries where they serve gulab jamun and kulfi. Gulab jamun is a sweet, warm dessert, consisting of round balls made of milk powder, flour, egg and butter that are deep fried until they are golden brown. The balls are then served in a thick, sugary syrup, flavoured with rosewater, cardamom and saffron. Kulfi, on the other hand, is a frozen dairy dessert made of cream, rosewater, cardamom, saffron and pistachios.
Enjoyed after a meal or even on their own, Malaysian desserts are a taste to remember, and you can depend on them for interesting texture and lots of exciting flavours!