The thing about Peranakan food that people love the most is how much you can taste the love that goes into it.
This is the very thing that also puts people off from making Peranakan food themselves!
Modern cooking culture has been reduced to instant noodles and microwave meals. And that’s all the time that many people have been allowed to devote to their nutrition. This worries me hugely. Our society prioritizes work over well-being and many people have been integrating into a new culture that can easily put zero emphasis on self-care through food. How are we meant to do proper work, when our bodies aren’t given appropriate nourishment?
In a world where time is money and money is time, there is no easy solution to this problem. What I can encourage, as much as I can, is the idea that cooking is a wonderful pastime to pick up. The need to stay in the moment, whether it be chopping, stirring, or measuring ingredients, makes it a very therapeutic process. Cooking at home saves you money. And it feeds you and the people you care about. Hard to get a hobby as constructive as that!
The ingredient list is modest, but don’t be fooled. Pengat Pisang is a dish that commands attention, not only during the process of making it, but also in terms of a union of flavours that can only manifest from patience.
Sago is a starchy substance extracted from the stem of the Sago Palm. A popular way of processing it is by boiling and stirring sago solution several times, until they turn into tiny pearls.
This is where the trickiness of the recipe comes in. If you are not familiar with cooking sago pearls, the process may seem a tad intimidating. Several factors need to be taken into account.
To create great sago, the key is to keep stirring the sago pearls in the pot as they cook, to aid in even cooking. But! If the heat applied is too much, the sago pearls might melt. If it is too low, the pearls might not cook completely. It also doesn’t help that different pearls from different manufacturers come in slightly different sizes, and therefore cook at different times. What I suggest is to experiment with different brands of sago pearls on your own, to find one that you are most comfortable cooking with. I found my ideal sago pearls on my third purchase. Trial and error is a necessary but rewarding experience.
If sago is hard to find in your area, of if sago-making scares you too much, all good. Pengat Pisang works just as well without it, and halves the total kitchen time too. But if you can, I’d recommend trying this recipe with the sago. The chewiness of the pearls is an engaging complement to the richness of the coconut, the sweetness of the banana and gula melaka, and the soothing aroma of pandan leaves.
Coconut-based products go bad very quickly, and it is advised that you eat this on the spot while it is still hot. If you have trouble finishing it on your own, you can also call up some friends and have them over tea time. This is how I first got acquainted with Pengat Pisang! One of my aunties, who is half Peranakan, is a kitchen maestro, and used to call my family over regularly for tea time treats on weekends.
May you enjoy the sweet aroma of making this at home, and the even sweeter company of those who come knocking!
Pengat Pisang (Warm Coconut Banana Soup)
A classic Peranakan dessert combining the well-loved flavours of banana, coconut milk, and the added texture of chewy sago beads for a bit of fun.
- 4 medium-sized bananas
- 1/2 cup sago
- 2 cups water + 1.25 litres (5 cups) water for cooking sago
- 500 ml coconut cream (carton)
- 80g Gula Melaka
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 6 pandan (screwpine) leaves tied into three knots
- Step 1 Bring 5 cups of water to the boil, then slowly pour in sago beads.
- Step 2 Bring down to medium heat, then stir occasionally for 25 minutes. The beads should start turning translucent with white centers.
- Step 3 Turn off heat and let beads stand in water for an additional 5 minutes, for the beads to turn completely translucent.
- Step 4 Drain water from sago with a sieve, then ‘wash’ sago under cool water for 2 minutes.
- Step 5 Leave aside. You can leave it in a bowl of cool water to prevent sago from sticking together, then drain right before adding sago to the rest of the dish.
- Step 6 Put gula melaka, salt and leaves into a pot. Pour in coconut cream and 2 cups water. Cook on high heat, for 10 minutes or until the liquid starts to bubble, then bring down immediately down to medium to low heat. Cook on this heat for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Step 7 Reduce to lowest heat, remove pandan leaves, add sliced bananas and simmer for a further 2 minutes.
- Step 8 Stir in sago.
- Step 9 Serve immediately.