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Treat your palate to a generous heap of Southeast Asian sweetness and indulgence, and give these delicious Malaysian desserts a try on your next visit to Malaysia.
Inspired by both Malay and neighboring Asian cuisines, these dishes boast fascinating flavors and tantalizing textures with each and every spoonful. Guided by a local writer, let’s dive into a culinary world of color and texture like no other.
1 – Kuih Ondeh-Ondeh
One bite into the Ondeh-Ondeh irresistibly leads to another. This sweet dessert originates from the state ‘Melaka’ in Malaysia.
Kuih Ondeh-Ondeh are a dish of glutinous rice balls, infused with palm sugar syrup. Traditionally ‘Gula Melaka’, a unique type of sugar extracted from palm trees in Melaka, is used to make the syrup.
Pandan, a type of fragrant leaves, are added to Ondeh-Ondeh to give the dish its light green color. The delicious rice balls are finally covered with grated coconut, adding a mild sweetness to the flavor.
Since Ondeh-Ondeh are tasty bite-sized desserts, they’re commonly served in the afternoon during tea time.
2 – Kuih Keria
Kuih Keria, also referred to as kuih gelang at times, is a sweet potato doughnut-like dessert. It’s made of a dough of steamed sweet potato, flour, and salt, topped with sugar.
No yeast or baking powder is used to make this dessert, and it is instead oil-fried in a wok. When frying, the Kuih Keria will char, as the sugar constituents of the sweet potatoes caramelize over the heat.
As for the topping, the Kuih Keria can be glazed with sugar syrup, or it can be sprinkled with sugar, whichever suits you better.
3 – Kuih Dadar/Kuih Ketayap
Kuih Dadar is a green-colored, pancake-like roll, filled with grated coconut and sugar. You can get this dessert from many local street vendors, and it’s popularly served at tea-time or supper.
The alluring green wrap, which looks like a thin pancake, is made from a flour batter with natural additions of pandan extracts (not artificial colorings).
Pandan not only gives dadar its green color, but also a delightful sweetness. Once the batter has been cooked, it is layered with grated coconut and sugar, before finally being rolled to create this beloved Malaysian treat.
4 – Rojak
Putting it in simple terms, Rojak is a salad mixture made of different kinds of fruits, vegetables, and sauces. You can find numerous variations of Rojak ar Malaysian food stalls because the dish can be easily modified to your taste preferences.
While a diverse dish, Rojak’s main-stay ingredients are usually deep-fried tofu, mango, pineapple slices, peanuts, and cucumber.
The dish is topped with a spicy sauce, made of shrimp paste, chilli, sweet sauce, caramel soy sauce, and sugar.
Because of both its sweet and savory elements, Rojak is not only a dessert but also a delicious snack that can be eaten at any time of the day.
5 – Cendol Durian
Cendol Durian is simply a must-try dessert in Malaysia! Cendol is an iced dessert, typically comprising of a shaved ice base – a perfect suit for Malaysia’s hot weather. From there, Cendol is layered with coconut milk, cornstarch, green rice flour jellies, and palm sugar syrup.
Naturally, the star ingredient of Cendol Durian is durian, a truly weird fruit with a unique taste and, for some, an eye-watering unbearable smell!
As durian’s growing season only falls between June and August, during this time practically all cendol vendors top their Cendol with durian. Regardless of how you feel about the fruit, its short window and novelty appeal make it a dessert you simply have to try if in Malaysia during that time.
6 – Mango Sticky Rice
Mangoes are arguably one of the most flavorsome fruits in the world and a beloved staple of Malaysian cuisine. Although this dish is said to originate from Thailand, it has grown in popularity all over Malaysia in the last few decades. Sticky mango rice is a vegetarian dessert, so people with different dietary preferences can enjoy it.
Mango sticky rice is a simple dish, made by first soaking rice in water for 30 minutes before cooking. Once the rice has been cooked, the water is boiled with coconut milk, jaggery, and salt.
The resultant rice will have an indulgent, sticky texture, with a mildly sweet taste. Finally, the dish is topped with juicy mango slices and a sauce of choice. This is very much a dessert for your Instagram!
7 – Talam Pandan
The word ‘talam’ means tray, so Talam Pandan essentially means ‘pandan tray’. It’s named as such because Talam Pandan is a double-layered pandan dessert, comprising of two separate layers made on two different trays.
The bottom layer is a sweet mixture of pandan juice, made from pandan leaves and water, while the top layer consists of coconut milk. Together, the two layers form a dessert with a refreshingly sweet and starchy taste, and a bouncy, chewy texture.
Since this dessert is vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free, you can consider talam pandan to be a relatively healthier treat compared to other desserts.
8 – Apam Balik
While today a beloved Malaysian dish, Apam Balik in fact originates from China, during the reign of the Qing dynasty.
It is believed that General Tso, the dynasty’s military leader, had to figure out a way to supply food for his soldiers without interrupting the day-to-day lives of the locals.
Hence, a pancake-like dish, that could easily be folded and held in your hand, was created to substitute the traditional meal of flatbread, onions, and chilli sauce fed to the armies.
Tso’s chefs and culinary experts designed a dish from locally sourced pancakes, filled with ground canes and peanuts, both of which were foods in abundance at the time.
To this day, the same recipe for Apam Balik is used across Malaysia. A common choice for dessert, many Malaysians also eat this nutty and filling dish for breakfast.
9 – Putu Mayam
Putu Mayam is a popular street food, consisting of rice flour noodles, accompanied with shredded dry coconut and sugar.
Traditionally, it was made by passing rice flour dough through a rattan basket, creating long and thin noodle strands. Nowadays, however, a special presser is used instead.
The noodle strands are squeezed through the press, then steamed with plain water. Sometimes, you can replace the water with pandan juice or coconut milk, to make the putu mayam more aromatic and sweeter. Other than sugar and shredded coconut, putu mayam can also be eaten with various curries.
10 – Kuih Bangkit
This is probably the easiest dessert cookie to munch on, because it literally melts in your mouth. These traditional Malaysian cookies are made from tapioca flour, eggs, and coconut milk.
Kuih bangkit is also a must-have food during Chinese New Year. Throughout this festive season, you can find kuih bangkit in a wide array of different shapes, including fish, flowers, birds, and many other animals.
Cookie molds are used to bake Kuih Bangkit into their various animal-inspired shapes, and once mixed, the dough needs to be oven-baked for roughly 10-20 minutes.
Kuih Bangkit are renowned for their crunchy exterior, and their softer, sweet interior. This Malaysian dessert is plentiful, sweet, and has a deep connection with the country’s culture.
11 – Karipap (Curry Puffs)
Ask any Malaysian, and they’ll tell you how much of a favorite karipap is for the locals (and plenty of tourists, too). Curry puffs are delicious, crispy pastries, filled with a range of fillings, including meat, eggs, potatoes, curry potatoes, and sardines.
A special pastry mold is used to prepare each pastry into the classic ‘curry puff’ shape, and once ready, the pastries are fried in oil until golden brown.
Karipap is best enjoyed piping hot, fresh from the pan, while the pastry still has its crispiness. Street food vendors across the country sell this beloved snack, so keep your eyes peeled when in food markets.
12 – Pulut
Pulut is a simple but wholesome dish of steamed glutinous rice, that you can eat with just about anything. Unlike white rice, pulut has a stickier texture and is far sweeter.
To prepare any pulut dish, the glutinous rice must first be thoroughly washed and left to soak overnight. The next day, the water is drained and replaced with thick coconut milk You can also add salt and sugar at this stage to enhance the flavor.
Once the rice mixture is ready, it is steamed for roughly 30 minutes, until cooked and ready to eat. The rice will have a creamy texture because it has absorbed all the coconut milk that was previously added.
As mentioned, pulut can be used in a wide range of dishes. You’ll commonly see colorful pulut dishes, such as Pulut Tai Tai, pictured above. This is achieved by simply adding artificial coloring to the rice, to make it more visually appealing.
13 – Dodol
Dodol is a sweet treat, glossy in appearance, made of sugar palm, coconut milk, jaggery, and rice flour. Dodol look very similar to toffees and have a similarly thick and sticky texture. Although the exact origin of Dodol is unclear, it’s loved by many Malaysians, and mass-produced locally.
If you’re a durian lover, you’re in for a treat, as durian-flavored Dodol is available throughout the year. In fact, Dodol Durian serves as a way to get your fix of this polarizing fruit, as durian is only available between the months of June and August.
14 – Payasam
Payasam is also known as ‘Kheer’ or ‘Payesh. This dish is a rich, creamy pudding-like dessert, originating from South India. There are numerous varieties of Payasam, including Semiya Payasam, as pictured, Paal Payasam, and Thengai Payasam, among many others.
While variations are plentiful, the key ingredients of Payasam are always rice, sugar, milk, cashew nuts, and raisins. In Malaysia, you can get a taste of Payasam in many Indian restaurants, commonly served for dessert.
Many street food vendors will also sell Payasam during the Indian festive seasons, such as Diwali, during October or November.
15 – Cekodok
Essentially, Cekodok is a dish of fried fritters, made from a batter of mashed bananas, rice, wheat flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Overripe bananas are used to make this beloved snack, as their overripeness adds to the sweetness of the fritters.
Once the Cekodok batter is prepared, a special technique is used to create the oblong shape of the fritters. The batter is added to a pan of hot oil, and while frying the vendor will spoon the batter into balls until cooked and crispy.
This technique makes Cekodok a challenging dish to master, but it is an enormous joy to watch others cooking it at food markets and at food stalls.
The beauty of Cekodok is in its texture. After the initial crunch of the outer layer, you’re treated to a soft and fluffy bite on the inside, due to the use of rice and wheat flour.
16 – Bubur Kacang Hijau
Every Malaysian-styled buffet will serve this sweet porridge dish for dessert. Made from a mixture of green beans, coconut milk, sago, pandan, and sugar, Bubur Kacang Hijau is rich, filling, and delightfully sweet.
While this dish can be eaten with a spoon, as you would a conventional porridge, we Malaysians also enjoy eating it by dipping in buns and slices of bread.
17 – Puding Sago Gula Melaka (Sago Pudding)
Puding Sago Gula Melaka, or Sago Pudding, brings together many delicious ingredients into one dish, including coconut cream, translucent sago balls, and sweetened palm sugar syrup.
Many Malaysians will also top this pudding with fruits, like mangoes or bananas, to add plenty of tartness, sweetness, and a refreshing taste, depending on the fruit used.
Texturally, this dessert is an explosion of delights. The chewiness of the sago balls, similar to tapioca balls in bubble tea, the richness and creaminess of the coconut pudding, and the various fruits used for topping means every mouthful is a true adventure.
Served in decadent and elaborate ways, and often colored with artificial colorings, this truly is the Malaysian dessert if you enjoy anything that’s wild, weird, and vibrant.
18 – Kuih Seri Ayu
‘Ayu’ means beautiful in Bahasa Melayu, and I think we can all agree this dish is aptly named, because these hollowed, plump treats look absolutely adorable. Kuih Seri Ayu is soft, fluffy, and appropriate to munch on at any time of the day.
A special kind of pastry mold is used to achieve the hollowed, patterned shape of the dessert, and it gets its beautiful and striking green color from artificial green coloring.
Finished with a dusting of shredded coconut, this simple, colorful, and slightly sweet dessert pairs perfectly with tea.
19 – Ketupat
Originating from Indonesia, Ketupat is a diamond-shaped rice cake, traditionally served during Eid celebrations. The steamed rice cakes are packed in hand-woven palm leaf pouches to reduce moisture and prevent contamination.
From a philosophical viewpoint, the criss-cross pattern is believed to symbolize the mistakes of humanity, while the white rice on the inside represents the purity one can attain from fasting during the month of Ramadan.
Ketupat is traditionally served hot and eaten with peanut sauce, rendang (coconut meat stew), or serunding (shredded coconut with various spices).
20 – Kek Susu Kukus
Kek Susu Kukus is a beautiful cake to behold, vibrant and rife with many different colors. This cake has a soft and puffy texture, despite the fact oil, rather than margarine, is used in its preparation.
Kek Susu Kukus is made from a mixture of oil, sugar, vanilla essence, and a cake stabilizer of choice, whisked together for 10 to 15 minutes, before milk, flour, and baking powder are added, little by little, to the mixture while concurrently whisking.
Once the base is ready, the flavor and character of the cake are decided by adding various ingredients, including chocolate rice, pieces of fruit, and/or artificial colorings, depending on your preference.
Once prepared, the cake batter is laid out in a tray and placed in a steamer for around 45 minutes. Once ready, you’ll be treated to a beautiful, soft, and delicious cake, that Malaysians across the country love to eat for celebrations and festivals.
Malaysian Desserts Summary
Southeast Asia is home to an incredible array of colorful, unique, and flavorsome dishes, and Malaysia does not disappoint when it comes to all things sweet and indulgent.
Malaysian desserts bring an incredible spectrum of colors, textures, and flavors to the table, all the while blinding you with their beauty, craft, and decadence.
Food is an integral part of this unique culture and this is represented in the desserts of Malaysian cuisine. All the dishes demonstrate resourcefulness, passion, craft, and have a deep connection to Malaysian culture.
On any trip or visit to Malaysia, seek out as many of these desserts as you can. From high-end restaurants to lively street food stalls and vendors, food can be enjoyed in so many ways in this vast and beautiful country.
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- Weird Fruits That Will Blow Your Mind
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Author: Irshika Suthakar is a content writer, hailing from Kulai, Malaysia. A bilingual writer in both English and Malay, she writes in a number of spaces, including travel and lifestyle, for various publications.
Images licensed via Shutterstock