A Peranakan’s call to guests for this dish during an afternoon’s card or mahjong game would rarely get a negative response, and it was usually enough to bring the entertainment to a complete halt. Furthermore, my family members could also be found in the kitchen eating this rather rich dessert in the middle of the night—albeit refrigerated—especially my mother who is very fond of it. (Photo – Cherki card game, a past Peranakan favorite)
Customarily, this kind of dessert was served in special Peranakan porcelain that was hand painted with bright pink, green, blue, and yellow colors, all considered too garish by the mainland Chinese. These dainty items were made in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, China and exported to Southeast Asia for the Peranakans’ exclusive use. A few years back, I visited my cousin who resides in London. Above her stove were two small plates, and upon inspection, I vaguely recognized them. I asked her if they were Peranakan porcelain, and she confirmed that they belonged to our common grandmother. I marveled at the intricacy of the brightly colored peonies and phoenixes in the center, surrounded by a bold red scalloped lip, as well as the fine brush strokes, all hand-produced. One of the plates showed some wear and tear, indicative of its use for daily meals. I took a few photographs of them, and upon returning home, I enlarged them to show the fine details, and they now are proudly displayed in my dining room. I once asked my parents if they still had any Peranakan porcelain among their valuables, to which they replied that they threw them out once they moved to a new house, thinking that they were outdated and not valuable—one shudders to think what they could be valued at these days. However, since then, my parents have started acquiring some of these precious plates, which are carefully stored in a beautiful red lacquered and gilded armoire.
Instead of using regular polished white rice to make this sweet pudding, black glutinous rice is the main ingredient and starch of this unique recipe. It has a nuttier flavor, and the outer hull gives it a unique texture. It has to be boiled much longer than regular rice so the starch is fully cooked and the hull becomes soft in texture. This grain is a full-flavored ingredient, thus the list of the other ingredients is short. The addition of the coconut cream just before serving gives it a burst of richness that complements the chewy rice and the thick sweet soup. It can be served warm or chilled.
You can find black glutinous rice in Asian markets. Do not buy the wild rice found in regular markets.
8 to 10 servings
Preparation time: 1 hour
240 grams (8½ ounces) black glutinous rice (Malay: pulut hitam), washed and drained, and soaked in water overnight
2 pandan leaves, folded and knotted
7 cups water
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt, plus a pinch
½ coconut, shaved and squeezed to produce ½ cup coconut cream, or canned
- In a pot, combine the rice, pandan leaves, and water, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 45 minutes until the rice is nearly completely cooked but not yet mushy.
- Add the sugar and ½ teaspoon of salt, and simmer for 10 minutes more. Remove from the heat when the rice hulls are soft enough.
- In a saucepan, bring the coconut cream and the pinch of salt to a quick simmer, then turn the heat off. Let it cool.
- Serve warm or chilled, with a bit of coconut cream added to each bowl before serving.
- The mixture may thicken as it cools. If necessary, add some boiling water until a slightly thick consistency is achieved, and adjust the sugar and salt to taste.