Conversations over Pulut Serikaya

Kuih Seri Muka, Pulut Serikaya or Kuih Salat

Depending on your heritage, this kueh / kuih is known as Pulut Serikaya (Straits Chinese – Nonya), Kuih Seri Muka (Malaysian) or Kuih Salat (Indonesian). It’s a two layered dessert common in Southeast Asian cuisine, made of coconut milk custard that’s flavoured with screwpine leaves known as ‘kaya’, atop glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk. Sweet and creamy in consistency.
JE Nilsson and CM Cordeiro Nilsson © 2011

Low summer sun on the horizon… in the kitchen along the Swedish Westcoast… sitting on some pandan leaves is a bit of Pulut Serikaya, cooled and sliced from its earlier steaming in the day.

If someone had told me that one day, I would be putting Nonya desserts such as this one on the table made with what feels like little effort, I would not have believed them. But then again, I never thought I would end up in Sweden either, ABBA being the only thing Swedish I knew of when growing up in Singapore.

From a Swedish or indeed a general western perspective, this small delicate delight is a complete unknown, from ingredients that are just barely available except through specialist Asian food stores in the big cities, to its history and tradition. Yet most anyone – given the chance to try it – sways to its alluring fragrance, and to place it with more familiar Nordic desserts, find themselves thinking of it as textured ice cream or warm pudding (if eaten immediately after steaming) for lack of closer references.

Today’s small afternoon tea treat of this kueh is the result of years of dialogue in the kitchen with my mother. From extracting the green juices of fresh pandan leaves to the making of kaya over a firewood stove, and pouring the custard over white polished glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk… the smell of it all coming together in the kitchen was pure heaven!

Through conversations with my mother, come information that in time turns to knowledge, maturing farther in time to a certain wisdom. Today’s tip from her was simple… “Next time you do this, don’t put so much coconut milk to the pulut.”

I smiled, looked at her over the now empty plate, and nodded.

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