Indonesia: Dawet (Iced Pandan Jelly Dessert)
I’ve been thinking about Indonesia for #GentGoesGlobal for a LONG time. One of my close internet friends is Indonesian, and she convinced me that something like Nasi Goreng is too expected, especially since I already had rice dishes such as Jollof and Omuraisu for other countries. She suggested dawet, which I had never heard of; perfect! But first…what is dawet?
Dawet, as it turns out, is a dessert drink popular in tropical South Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. It comprises of a coconut milk base, with pandan jellies mixed in. Other toppings can include palm sugar, red beans, coconut shavings, and other fruits – but the coconut milk and pandan jellies are essential. Not sure how to make your own pandan jelly? Never fear, I’ve got all of the instructions right here. The hardest part is shaping them! Well, after we’ve figured out how we got this cooling concoction in the first place, and where it comes from.
Dawet is the precursor and lesser-known cousin to the popular cendol. The main difference between the two (at least, according to my research) is that dawet is more of a drink and cendol is more of a shaved ice dessert. There are heated debates in Southeast Asia as to who owns the cultural rights to cendol, much like tamales in Latin America or Jollof rice in West Africa. CNN caused a stir by naming cendol in an article of top desserts in the world and attributing it to Singapore. Singaporean cendol is indeed famous for its red adzuki bean topping on a bed of shaved ice swimming in coconut milk. But Indonesians take a simplified approach to the dessert, which leads to the differentiation of cendol and dawet.
Dawet is cendol without the shaved ice and fancy toppings. It’s thought that dawet dates back to the 14th century, but is definitely mentioned by name in a Javanese manuscript from the 1800’s. Wherever it may come from and wherever it may belong to, residents of Southeast Asia can agree on one thing: dawet/cendol is refreshing as hell. That’s what has led to its booming popularity across an entire continent. So what goes into making dawet?
The trickiest part is making the pandan jellies. Check your local Asian market for pandan extract, and make sure it’s colored green. Mung bean flour is annoyingly prone to clumping, so you’ll want to sprinkle it evenly over the surface of the water and then STIR IMMEDIATELY. I made the mistake of leaving my first batch of jellies for a second before stirring and got clumps of mung bean flour that wouldn’t dissolve no matter what. Depending on where you are in the world, mung bean flour and/or pandan extract might be expensive or hard to find, so you definitely don’t want to waste any. Use a colander with large holes to get the fun squiggly jelly shapes, and drop them in ice water to solidify them. Once you’ve got that down it’s smooth sailing from there!
I took a route halfway between dawet and cendol by making it more of a drink that I added an extra topping to. Red bean paste softens in the coconut milk and gives it more of a milkshake consistency. Sip the milk, scoop the paste and jellies, and enjoy refreshment on a hot day. There’s nothing better!
I enjoyed taking another foray into a dish that I had no knowledge of before. Researching the history and context of a dish is a passion project that I am always down to undertake. What should I discover next? Leave a comment with a country or a dish you’d like to see in the #GentGoesGlobal series! Until next time, here’s to good drinking, great eating, and even better living.
For the palm sugar syrup
- 100 g palm sugar
- 1/4 c water
For the pandan jellies
- 55 g mung bean flour (or rice flour if you need to substitute)
- 45 g cornstarch
- 30 g white sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp green pandan extract
- 1 1/2 cup water
- coconut milk
- red bean paste
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the palm sugar with the water over medium heat and reduce to a syrup consistency (about 10 minutes). If it thickens too much, add more water. Too thin, reduce a little longer. Set aside and allow to cool.
- In another saucepan over high heat, add all of the ingredients for the pandan jellies and stir immediately to dissolve. As the mixture thickens, turn the heat to low and continue to cook until it becomes translucent (about 15 minutes). Stir regularly to keep from burning.
- When the jelly mixture is ready, use a colander with large holes to shape the jellies. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl and push the jelly mixture through the holes of the colander, letting them drop to the ice bath to solidify. Let them rest for 15 minutes to firm up before using.
- When ready to assemble, fill a glass with ice and coconut milk. Spoon over jellies and stir in some palm sugar syrup. Add any toppings if you desire. Enjoy your refreshment!