No, “bubur cha cha” isn’t a type of dance. It’s a sweet, coconut-based soup that we enjoy quite often here in Malaysia. But the recipe is a bit different from our Honeydew Sago Dessert recipe, our Indonesian Es Teler recipe, or the cendol that we enjoyed back in Penang. Bubur cha cha is a Nyonya dish made with different types of sweet potatoes and yam (or Chinese taro). To the sweet potatoes, you add a little pearl tapioca for a textural counterpoint.
Bubur Cha Cha
In Hawaii, you could find something similar in Vietnamese restaurants except that their versions were more pudding-like with more tapioca pearls than sweet potatoes. And I believe in the Philippines, they add bananas to their version.
Bubur Cha Cha Recipe
Prep Time: 30 mins / Cook time: 30 mins
1 each orange, yellow and purple or white sweet potato (roughly medium sized ones will do), peeled and cut into half inch cubes
1 small yam (Chinese taro), peeled and cut into half inch cubes
3-4 Tbsp sugar
6-7 cups water
4-6 pandan leaves washed and knotted together
1-2 cups thick coconut milk (or 1 can if you cannot get fresh—Mae Ploy is our preferred brand)
1/3 cup tapioca pearls
rock sugar or palm sugar to add to your desired sweetness (start with about 1/3 cup and go from there)
- Place sweet potatoes on a plate in a single layer, sprinkling with some sugar on top and steam for about 6-8 minutes until just cooked through. Repeat with remaining sweet potatoes and Chinese taro.
- While sweet potatoes and Chinese taro are being steamed, add water to a large pot along with the knotted pandan leaves and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, lower heat and simmer for a further 20 minutes.
- Remove pandan leaves, and add sweet potatoes and Chinese taro to the water. Bring to a boil and add tapioca pearls. Bring the soup back to a simmer. Once the tapioca pearls start to turn translucent (it should start to happen in 5 minutes or so), add the coconut milk.
- Add rock or palm sugar to taste. If you desire a sweeter soup, add more sugar. Let all the ingredients simmer for about 5 more minutes and it is ready to be served hot. If you prefer it to be cool, let it cool to room temperature then put the pot in the fridge and serve it several hours later.
The Lazy Way or the Careful Way
When I was in college, and I was craving this dessert, I would do it the lazy way and just dump all the cubed up sweet potatoes (and the sweet potatoes didn’t have to be different colors) into the pot and boil that with sugar and then finally adding some coconut milk.
Only lately, being back home, have I watched how my mom prepares it. She takes a lot more care and this is why her bubur cha cha is really yummy!
Instead of dumping all the potatoes and yam into boiling water, she starts by steaming these cubed up tubers till they are done. Before steaming, she sprinkles them with a little sugar. Also, she would make sure that she had at least two or three different types of sweet potatoes—orange, yellow and white or purple ones as well as the Chinese taro.
Cubed Sweet Potatoes
While that is happening, she starts a pot of water boiling with some pandan leaves. Once the water is infused with the pandan fragrance, and the sweet potatoes and yam are done steaming, then only does she add them to the water. This is left to simmer for just a little while before the tapioca pearls and coconut milk is added. Finally, rock sugar is added to taste and the dessert is ready.
Sweet Potatoes Steaming and Simmering
Her way maintains the integrity of each component and the flavors are more pure. My easier, lazy way tends to lead to a more starchy soup which is also good if you like it like that. These days, I do it my mom’s way because it really is better and why should I mess with a good thing?
Some people like to add tapioca jelly bits to the dessert. Me, I am happy with the tapioca pearls and the sweet potatoes and yam. This combination is simply amazing. If I did have to change one thing, it would be to use gula Melaka instead of rock sugar as my sweetener. My mom sometimes does that too as palm sugar complements any coconut dessert so well.
Just writing about this dessert makes me want to go get the ingredients to make it again. There’s something very satisfying about a bowl of bubur cha cha. It’s a dessert and yet, so healthy for you with all the colorful sweet potatoes in it. It definitely nullifies the fat from the coconut milk and the sugar! ^_^
If you’ve never had bubur cha cha, you owe it to yourself to try it out. It is simply one of the good things here in Malaysia that I cannot get enough of.