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7 South East Asian Desserts Cruise Ship Chefs Must Learn

Before the pandemic hit, cruise tourism in Asia was already showing signs of increasing popularity. As the industry recovers, this trend might return. In addition, Asian food tends to be a hot favourite onboard cruise ship. To expand your repertoire, here’s a shortlist of South-East Asian desserts cruise ship chefs should master.


This is a steamed layer cake popular in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam. Each layer is often tinted a different colour so it’s bright, vibrant and popular with children. The base ingredients are tapioca and rice flours, mixed with coconut milk, sugar and water. Spekkoek is the Indonesian-Dutch version of kue lapis, which is made of wheat flour and is baked. 


Mango sticky rice is a classic Thai dessert that requires just glutinous rice, coconut milk, palm sugar and fresh mango. Glutinous rice is generally sweeter than normal sticky rice and offers the best texture. To make it even sweeter, condensed milk is sometimes used as a substitute for coconut milk.


Sesame balls are thought to have originated in China and then been taken to other parts of Asia including Cambodia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines. Sesame laddoo in India is considered a variant of this. Chinese jian dui, however, is a deep-fried rice flour pastry stuffed with sweet lotus paste or black bean paste and coated in sesame seeds. 


The Portuguese introduced castella to Japan back in the 16th century. It is now one of Japan’s most popular confectionaries. It’s a light, airy cake consisting of bread flour, eggs and mizuame, a sweetener made of glutinous rice starch or sweet potato starch. More contemporary versions include ingredients such as powdered green tea, brown sugar and honey. 


In Korea, rice cake is a popular everyday snack that is also made for celebrations. This too is made from glutinous rice flour and is generally a bit chewy or sticky. Given that it is usually steamed and coated with soybean powder, black sesame seed powder, mashed red beans or chopped nuts, it can actually be pretty healthy and nutritious.


Halo halo is a delightful mix of ingredients that combines a variety of flavours and textures, making it a pretty versatile dessert for cruise ship chefs to make. It’s perfect for hot days as the base is most often a mix of crushed ice and condensed milk. Over the top, it’s common to find sweetened beans, tapioca, immature glutinous rice, boiled taro, ube or purple yam, coconut strips, and finally Leche flan or ice cream. 


Pandan cake was named Singapore’s national cake by CNN in 2017, although it is long thought to have originated in Indonesia. It’s a soft sponge not unlike the castella but carries the distinct flavour and light green tinge of local pandan or screwpine leaves. Other ingredients include flour, eggs, butter or coconut oil, coconut milk and sugar for a soft, moist and flavourful cake.

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