Firstly allow me to clear the misconception of Asian definition when it comes to food. If there is such a thing as American cheesecake or British bread pudding, or Australian Carrot Cake, there is indeed no such thing as Asian Dessert anything. There are however a multitude of desserts across different ethnic groups in Asia.
So you can imagine how rich the Asian food culture is, if you collectively identify them as Chinese, Malay, Japanese, Indian, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese, Indonesian, Arabic, Philippines etc. Each culture carries with it a totally different tradition and heritage and this is reflected in their desserts as well.
One particular “Asian” dessert that is little known amongst Westerners are the traditional Malay kuihs. These are delightful chewy and rich desserts that are made from natural ingredients like tapioca flour, sweet potato flour, bananas, palm sugar, coconut milk, glutinous rice etc. There are more than 100 different types of Malay kuihs and these recipes emerged and came from the Indonesian and Malay villages. I grew up with these kuihs and used to watch my grandmother lovingly prepared her goodies over the stove and delighted in feeding us those delectables. She too learned the skill from her homeland in Sumatera Indonesia before she migrated to Singapore.
In those days, the womenfolk discovered resourceful ways to make their desserts and snacks from natural ingredients or whatever they grew in their garden and grew on trees. These kuihs were steamed mostly, sometimes grilled – baking was nonexistent because they not only did not have any oven, electricity was scarce. Besides sweets, there are also savoury version which is often eaten or served during tea time.
Today kuihs are such popular desserts in Southeast Asia mainly inSingapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Yet very few people know the secrets of making kuihs as many recipe books are written in English. Some recipes are available on the internet. I know of many Western friends or those living in the west, who would regularly request for translated version from me. In this part of the world, it is quite easy to find these desserts from the wet market to hotels and restaurants. Many of the recipes have been simplified and subsitutes are introduced for eg fullcream milk is used instead of coconut milk.
Many locals make their living from selling these kuihs as there are more people willing to eat than to learn the art of making these traditional and delicious desserts. The Malays knew the secrets to make these kuihs differently from other desserts through the use of banana and pandan leaves for fragrance and colour, through use of combined flour to give contrasting tastes and use of palm sugar melted like cheese to heighten the eating sensation.
If you love baking and cooking, you will enjoy learning the art of making this “Asian” dessert which belongs to the Malay or Indonesian ethnic group. While Asians are familiar with western desserts, and enjoying a wonderful choice of desserts, the westerners are yet to discover a whole new world of desserts which can be quickly learned and easily made. Not to mention, to impress the entire neighbourhood!