DESSERTS of the east

Most Asian res­tau­rants of­fer pretty ba­sic desserts, but tra­di­tional sweet treats of the east are a de­li­ciously dif­fer­ent way to fin­ish a meal.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Grow & Tell -

Like many peo­ple, my ex­pe­ri­ence eat­ing out in Thai and Chi­nese res­tau­rants had lead me to be­lieve – wrongly – that Asian coun­tries don’t do sweet treats be­yond ly­chees and ice cream.

That was un­til I tried sago me­laka and kueh salat. Odd, yes. De­li­cious, ab­so­lutely yes. Sat­is­fy­ing, yes!

Think pan­dan leaves, ba­nana, sago, co­conut and palm sugar. A Western mind may strug­gle to imag­ine de­li­cious desserts emerg­ing from such for­eign in­gre­di­ents when the usual sus­pects are things like choco­late and caramel whizzed into a rich, sweet calo­rie burst.

Asian dessert choices are wide and fas­ci­nat­ing, rang­ing from sweet and savoury Chi­nese cakes and cook­ies, to trop­i­cal fruit-flavoured rice and ice cream. There’s also sweet restora­tive soups (tong sui) on the Can­tonese side.

A vast ar­ray of cakes and sweets are pre­pared for the many Chi­nese fes­ti­vals, but there are a lot of re­gional dif­fer­ences in in­gre­di­ents. Broadly they in­clude gao (snacks, typ­i­cally steamed), sweets (tang), shaved ice desserts with syrups, and baked wheat flour con­fec­tions re­sem­bling puff or short crust pas­tries. A great deal of prepa­ra­tion goes into th­ese cakes and some are highly dec­o­rated. Some desserts play with the sweet/salty com­bi­na­tion, like the sago gula me­laka recipe you’ll find on page 70, rather like the lat­est fad for salted caramel.

Strange names, great tastes

The in­gre­di­ents used de­pend on the re­gion and in­clude gluti­nous rice flour, red azuki beans, agar, peanuts, ba­nana, mango, al­monds, and saf­fron.

The Per­anakan cul­ture (Malay-chi­nese her­itage) uses in­gre­di­ents like ba­nana leaves, pan­dan leaves, gula me­laka (palm sugar) and co­conut.

Palm sugar comes in round cakes about 5cm in di­am­e­ter and has a de­li­ciously dis­tinc­tive co­conut/caramel flavour. In a well-known Per­anakan dessert called on­deh on­deh (pro­nounced ‘on­day on­day’), a piece of gula me­laka (palm sugar) is buried in­side a ku­mara and gluti­nous rice ball, flavoured and coloured by pan­dan leaves, then rolled in salted co­conut. The sur­prise comes when you bite into it, a shot of sticky sweet caramel squirt­ing out.

The guilt-free dessert

My favourite dessert so far is the de­lec­ta­ble kueh salat (pro­nounced kway salart), also known as kuih seri muka (seri muka is Malay for ‘pretty face’). This twolay­ered dessert has a steamed gluti­nous rice base and a creamy cus­tard layer on top. Co­conut milk is used to im­part the creamy tex­ture, and pan­dan leaf is in­fused

Chef Lil­ian cut­ting the kueh salat (pro­nouned ‘kway salart’).

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