Malaysia, Truly Asia. This slogan which is used extensively for Malaysian Tourism keeps conjuring to my mind every time I think of Malaysian food. A melting pot of multicultural backgrounds and heavily influenced by Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese and British colonisations, it is no surprise that the food scene in Malaysia is depicted as one of the best in the world. However, not many people outside Malaysia actually know much of Malaysian cuisine, let alone tasted the Malaysian desserts, so here I am with a bit of enlightenment for all of us, as in my humble opinion, the arrays of desserts one find in Malaysia is second to none.
When you think of French desserts, one would even classify macarons as the National 'dessert'. For Malaysians, 'kueh' is the Malaysia's answer to macarons, the local pièce de résistance. Kueh is one of the traditional steam cakes which is famous amongst the Malays and Baba Nyonyas of Malaysia. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of variations to kueh, from the typical use of rice flour, natural food flavourings of squeezed pandan leaves up to the upbeat, colourful varieties of semolina and tapioca laden in coconut milk as well as glutinous rice layers; all these could be found in almost all the stalls and restaurants in Malaysia. Some of the kuehs come in layers, hence known as Kueh Lapis, or Layered Steam Cakes; whilst some are known by the ingredients used in making them such as Talam Suji (Semolina Steamcake) or Lapis Pandan ( Pine leave layered steam cake). The art of making kueh is very much inherited from generations to generations, where the 'recipes' are mostly an approximate based on one's experience instead of the exact measurements. Sometimes the 'kueh' of same title tastes completely different throughout the 13 regional states of Malaysia! One thing that is common throughout is the use of rice flour and coconut milk in abundance, whilst the kueh itself would be encased in beautiful cases, triangles and boxes made of coconut leaves and banana leaves; an art that is as good as origami.
Wait, there's more..don't forget the savouries!
If you think that is all there is to Malaysian sweet tooth, you are wrong, as this is only the tip of the iceberg. As the cuisine also drew influences from the Indian, Chinese and Thai culture, you may find that a lot of tea time snacks in Malaysia are savouries from Kerala, South India or Chinese backgrounds such as Vadaa, deep fried dhal patties with curry leaves and Yau Char Kway, the chinese fried crullers, delicious with tea or on its own. It is fair to say that most Malaysians are familiar with all the cuisines of all sorts as a dessert platter contains Malay, Chinese, Indian and even Thai desserts all on a plate!
In Malaysia, we have sweet porridge for high-tea..
One of the unique Malaysian desserts that I truly miss is the arrays of sweet congees also known as 'Bubur' or 'Pengat'; these congees are usually sweetened with cocconut palm sugar ( I tell you, they taste way better than Muscovado sugar), and liberal use of tropical fruits and vegetables as the main ingredients. For example, Pengat Labu or literally translated as Sweet Pumpkin Porridge is a scrumptious comfort food enjoyed during tea time, and Bubur Cha-Cha, a Nyonya dessert made with colourful sweet potatoes, yam, black-eye peas, tapioca jelly, cooked in sweetened coconut milk base is a treat for the nation, and a must amongst Chinese who celebrate the Chap Goh Mei festival.
Cool local frappes to quench the thrist, all year long of summer..
Malaysia's year-long summer is also beautifully complemented with the varieties of cold desserts and 'frappes'. Even before Starbucks launched the frappucinos, Malaysians are well accustomed with ABC- Ais Batu Kacang (Ais is Malaysian spelling for Ice); which is a concoction of shaven ice drizzled with sweetcorn, jellies, rose syrup, roasted peanuts, ice-cream and many more! If you would rather err on side of caution, there are also 'less adventurous' cold desserts that can be tried; the famous Cendol made from rice flour jelly, mango pudding with fruit cocktails and agar-agar, to name a few.
I hope this snapshot will give you a glimpse of Malaysian cuisine and if you ever visit Malaysia, do try out the desserts as they are truly delectable. It is very difficult to sum up 'Malaysian Desserts' in a page as they are really a plethora of various cuisines, and the hybrid that forms Malaysia, and I think that is where the beauty lies. To celebrate Malaysian desserts with The Daring Kitchen members, I shall be sharing Malaysian desserts recipes on weekly basis in my food blog, so do visit The Cooking Doctor for Malaysian dessert recipes every Saturday from this week onwards. Let's be daring and try out the aforementioned recipes in the article above and many more, in your own kitchen.
Jom Makan! (Let's Eat!)