Cendol: Slurp-worthy Sweet Ice Bowls Around Asia

Cendol: Slurp-worthy Sweet Ice Bowls Around Asia

Wait, there’s more than one type of cendol? Discover the wonderful ways you can enjoy this icy cool dessert

Plop down on a hard seat in a street side restaurant or hawker centre and when you spot the vibrant cendols floating by to the other tables, it’s so hard to resist the temptation to order this creamy treat for yourself immediately! Cendol in its purist form refers to the characteristic green, worm-like jelly that is prominent in every form of this dessert.  Toss in some diced jackfruit, and it’ll turn into dawet if you’re in Central and East Java. Add a generous heap of red bean and sweet corn instead and be transported to the heritage-rich and lively streets of Penang (or anywhere in Malaysia in Singapore really), where cendol is enjoyed with extra condiments and a generous drizzle of gula melaka syrup.

There’s more to this well-loved traditional dessert than meets the eye (and it’s already a colorful piece of work to behold!) – so dive in and discover what different cultures and nations have been adding to this classic treat for some future cendol-making inspiration.

What is it

Cendol can refer to both the main ingredient (the emerald green jellies) and the actual dessert itself, depending on which part of Southeast Asia you’re in. In a traditional Indonesian Cendol (Es Dawet), these jellies are made using rice flour, tapioca or sago starch and dyed naturally green with pandan or suji leaves. Once a soft dough-like consistency is achieved, it’s pressed through a cendol maker to form little short strands that go into the dessert. This recipe hasn’t changed for centuries, and the ingredients used are widely grown in Java, where this dessert is thought to have originated from. Coconut mik and palm sugar or gula jawa is added to the jellies to achieve the basic but already delicious form of this treat.

Ice was introduced to cendol-making during the colonial times, where the British ships brought the refrigeration technology. With the occasional sweltering afternoons in Southeast Asia, it’s no wonder this icy version has stuck around since!

Kinds of Cendol

Yuda Bustara presents a healthier take on the classic Indonesian Cendol (Es Dawet)

In Indonesia, its common to have diced jackfruit with your cendol, with the soft crunch and slight juiciness of the jackfruit providing a nice contrast in terms of texture and colors. 

Cendol, as pictured, is the variation most familiar to Malaysia and Singapore 

In Malaysia and Singapore, cendol often comes with red kidney or Japanese Azuki beans, sweet corn and palm sugar (pictured). For an even chewier jelly texture, Nyonya versions of cendol sometimes use glutinous rice flour instead of rice flour to elevate the stickiness of the dough. Mungbean flour is also added to give the cendol jelly a more gelatinous texture and a slight translucent look that makes it more attractive.

Mung beans, added whole or grounded to flour, are both used in Vietnamese and Thai cendol 

In Vietnam, this dessert is turned into a refreshing slushy drink called Chè ba màu or Chè ba lot, which translates to three-colored dessert. The cendol jelly itself may be replaced by similar looking green agar-agar jelly, and yellow mung beans are sometimes added for a pop in color between the layers. Lot Chong, the Thai version of this green dessert is simpler to make, where just the jellies made from mung bean flour, rice flour and pandan water are mixed into sugary water. Cambodia and Myanmar have their own versions as well, usually served up in a big mug to cool you down quickly on a hot day!

Seasonal or tropical fruits such as young coconut flesh, durian pulp and lychees also make for great pairings with the cendol base, providing a touch of natural sweetness, creaminess and juiciness to differentiate your dessert.

Serving Suggestions

Like how cendol can be made in so many different ways, no two cendol presentation styles are alike. Enjoy your cold cendol pushcart-style from a small plastic bowl heaped with toppings, slurp it up from a beer mug while admiring the beautifully crafted layers within or sip it slowly from a luxurious martini glass in a fancy restaurant. Nothing quite beats a porcelain bowl and matching spoon though, as you can dig into the heaping pile of jelly goodness that is sometimes difficult to pick up using a straw.  



Can’t get enough of this slippery, chewy cendol? Turn the ingredients into a more hardy Delectable Cendol Kueh Talam that you can save for later or freeze up some decadent cendol ice cream, that you can scoop on top of your actual cendol drink or dessert (just like how a milo dinosaur works)!

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