Asia is certainly not well known for its sweet creations. Their desserts are world’s apart from those we treasure in the west. However, I believe that there are many gems to be found, provided you chose intelligently. Of course you will not find the best Battenberg, New York cheesecake or Bakewell tart in Asia. However, opt for a sweet filled steamed bun, a fried sweet pastry puff or fruity sticky rice and you won’t be disappointed. Go with tradition and local dishes rather than what you would eat back home.
Here is a run down of some local and Asian sweets that I enjoyed whilst on my travels in Malaysia…
First on my list is Japanese bakery Komugi, home of the most incredible cheesecake that has ever passed my lips (and I have eaten a lot of cheesecake). Japan is a nation with such a wide variety of foods. Its not all sashimi and seaweed; their cuisine comprises rich curries, fragrant noodles, fresh salads and then there are the desserts. I would probably say that Japan holds top position when it comes to my favourite Asian sweets and I can’t get enough of Japanese cheesecake. Unlike its european and New York equivalents which are heavy and creamy, Japanese cheesecake is soft, fluffy, and oh so light. It still retains a richness of flavour and creaminess, but has more of a soufflé texture and a velvety smoothness. A real melt-in-your-mouth moment: it’s like eating a cloud!
Another delicious offering from Komugi is their matcha green tea namachoco sand cake. The subtle bitterness from the green tea is perfectly offset by the sweetness of the nama chocolate cocoa cream centre.
Having lived in China for many years, I have eaten egg custard buns before, however, these freshly made xiang yu nai huang bao were worlds apart from the packet ones I was used to. The light sweet bread buns are coloured purple with natural turnip pigment and filled with a warm, rich and very sweet egg filling that flows out as you take a bite. The custard was unlike custard that I am used to; rather than being creamy from the addition of milk, it was sugary with an intense fresh egg flavour.
I spent one of my last nights in Kuala Lumpur in utter indulgence on top of KL tower at restaurant Atmosphere 360*. The table area of the restaurant was moving, making a complete circle to allow all diners to see the view over every part of the city, while the buffet section in the middle stood still. The buffet was mostly made up of Malaysian dishes, from aromatic curries and tasty seafood, to juicy satay and curry puffs. Then came the array of desserts (which our table happily arrived at towards the end of the meal), including a selection of traditional Malay desserts. The western desserts were average at best, which was to be expected. However, the Malaysian sweets were scrummy! Delicious coconut and fruit jellies, pandan crepes filled with sweet kaya and sticky coconut rice squares, plus a beautiful selection of fresh fruits to cleanse the palette after all that rich food!
I was in Malaysia over the Ramadan period and therefore raya cookies scattered every mall and market. From pineapple tarts to rolled tarts, almond crunch to peanut cookies, kueh bangkit to kurma (date) delights, everything in miniature and a real colour feast for the eye.
Yummy fruits and roasted chestnuts at the food market. I am yet to find Mangosteen in England and rarely see lychees so I urge you to try them whenever abroad! Mangosteen are deliciously sweet and juicy; they were one of my favourite fruits when I lived in Beijing and I miss them dearly!
Dates are a popular choice in Malaysia and often given before a meal at restaurants. At the market there was a huge variety of dates, ranging in colour, flavour and sweetness.
I personally find little delight in a fresh coconut. I love coconut water that you can buy in a carton (and this says 100% coconut water in the ingredients so I am baffled by my own disgust at the real deal), but to me the coconut water tastes like it has gone bad. Despite my views, fresh coconuts are all the rage in Malaysia.
Now to the beverages. Being English, I love my tea and Malaysian teh tarek was a great discovery. Literally translated to “pulled tea”, this sweet creamy drink is sometimes spiced with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and clove and is poured at a height between two cups to create a frothy top. Malaysia tea and coffee are made with evaporated milk which make them incredibly creamy and sweet (sometimes a little too much so!)
Rose syrup drink with holy basil seeds (known as bandung selasih) is a popular drink to have before eating a meal in Malaysia and is often given free of charge when eating at a restaurant. It has a slight jelly-like consistency which is a little unusual, but for some reason it keeps you going back for another sip. Definitely an intriguing drink.
I drink gallons of chinese tea everyday. In a restaurant or tea shop, the teas are always served in a glass so that the drinker can see the leaves uncurling and releasing their flavour into the water. Chinese flower tea is by far the most beautiful of the chinese teas. It starts as a large green ball of and as the water rehydrates the dried, rolled leaves, the ball begins to uncurl and reveal a perfect little flower which seems to bloom in the water and flat above the leaves. There are many varieties of flower teas and all have a wonderfully delicate flavour that is very refreshing after a meal or on a hot day.
Although this is a post about Asian bakes and sweets, I can’t sign off without mentioning a little french bakery/bistro that I stumbled upon in the Bangsar district of Kuala Lumpur. Owned by a frenchman, stepping into this intimate restaurant is like stepping into France, with its tiled floor and dark wooden tables. The head chef is also french and creates authentic french dishes with the help of the other chef. This is the place to go if you are searching for delicious gourmet french food, pastries and above all, their freshly baked bread.
I had a wonderful time discovering this new cuisine in Malaysia and can’t wait to try and make some of these treats myself!