Sugar, spice and everything nice!
The sweetmeats and desserts of Malaysia, also known as kuih-muih or manisan locally, cater to the craziest taste buds in Asia, hence they are absolutely unique. Malaysians are extremely thrifty, yet have high expectations of their desserts. Through this almost impossible-to-meet criteria, we have seen a unique craftsmanship that has resulted in affordable and tasty treats. Here’s an eclectic list of kuih-muih and manisan from the melting pot of ethnicities that is Malaysia.
Ais Kacang, literally meaning “ice beans”, also commonly known as ABC (Air Batu Campur, meaning “mixed ice”), incorporates a variety of ingredients over shaved ice and drenched in copious amounts of evaporated milk and a traditional sweetener called Gula Melaka or coconut sugar. Traditionally the dish is served with roasted peanuts, other local legumes, buttered or creamed corn and grass jelly (cincau).
Ais Batu Campur
However, some local vendors have upped the ante by throwing in nata de coco cubes, adzuki beans, fresh fruit bites, pickled mango slices and even a dollop of ice cream. ABC is a godsend to those who can’t bear the boiling Malaysian weather. If you fancy this mouth-watering dish, check out Uncle Weng Kee’s 55-year-old beverage stall in Petaling Jaya for one of the best servings in Malaysia.
Malaysia is truly a sweet tooth’s paradise. We have some of the most sinfully sweet and colourful desserts. Kuih Lapis is probably one of the most iconic desserts in Malaysia as is impossible to dislike. This rice flour pudding comes in so many tantalising colours, shapes and sizes. The pudding comprises of stacks of sweet multi-coloured layers that have a gooey texture that melts in the mouth. This dessert is so popular that almost any vendor will give you high quality servings across Malaysia.
Pisang Goreng is a traditional banana fritter that is to die for. Best served piping hot, the fried banana dessert is deceptively unappealing in appearance but is bursting with flavour. Made from fresh bananas coated in flour batter, it is fried for a couple of minutes and ready to serve. The sweet and savoury taste with a crunchy exterior and soft mushy interior can bring on unstoppable cases of the munchies. You can’t stop at just one, so be sure to order a couple on the go. Pisang Goreng is really popular all over Malaysia and can be found in any of the night markets and bazaars in any local township.
Ondeh Ondeh is a quintessential local Malay delight that takes the cake (no pun intended) for being the funkiest looking pastry around. Made from either glutinous rice flour or sweet potatoes, the balls are coated with coconut kernel (santan) and hide a sugary brown Gula Melaka surprise right in the middle. Take a bite into one of these and expect the delightful juices inside to squirt out all over the place. Wearing fancy clothes while eating this is not recommended.
The hearts of Malaysians are not easy to win over when it comes to food. But mention Cendol and everyone will melt instantaneously. Cendol is made out of a frenzied mix of shaved ice, palm sugar, Gula Melaka, coconut milk and kidney beans that is sweet and blends mushy and crunchy textures in a heavenly balance. This sweet dessert is a close cousin of Air Batu Campur and can sometimes be found at vendors who sell desserts under the Ais Kacang (shaved ice) family. The best Cendol (highly contested among all vendors) is probably at Penang Road Teochew Chendul, which has been in operation since 1936.
Apam Balik is a folded pancake with creamed corn and chopped peanuts. In between is anything thin and crunchy or thick and fluffy. These snacks are the perfect dessert if you need something filling and tasty. Imagine a crisper version of a crumpet with a crunchy interior.
Putu Mayam is a rice flour dessert served with palm sugar and coconut milk. The best vendors usually cycle around residential areas in makeshift mobile food stalls. This is one traditional South Indian dessert that has been “Malaysianised” and is best had with a spot of chai.
Leng Chee Kang will melt away your worries. This traditional dish is served with longan fruits, lotus seeds, dried persimmons, malva nuts and sometimes quail eggs submerged in a beautiful boiled rock sugar broth. The dish can be served hot or chilled with ice cubes and is especially refreshing on a scorching hot day.
Leng Chee Kang
Bubur Cha Cha is like Cha Cha Mambo in your mouth … explosive! It is a Malaccan Nyonya sago porridge served with sweet potato chunks and coconut milk. The clever mix of local ingredients transports you to the simple lifestyles of the local Nyonya people in their traditional kampung abodes.
Bubur Cha Cha
Last, but not least on our list is Ang Ku Kueh. It is the gooiest of gooey desserts that melts in your mouth to reveal a beautifully compacted sweet mung bean and peanut. The glutinous rice flour casing usually comes with intricate traditional Chinese designs that are amazingly detailed.
Ang Ku Kueh
For more cultural lessons head to http://www.tourism.gov.my/ • Cover photo from othatsherry.com