Celebrating Food! Celebrating Life!

Chap Goh Meh & the Peranakan Pengat

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Today is the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, which is known as 元宵节 Yuan Xiao Jie to the Chinese. To the traditional babas and nyonyas, this day also marks the end of the almost 2 month long preparation which started at 冬至 Tang Chek, followed by making kueh bakol for ari datok naik, Semayang Abu or ancestral prayers on the eve of the Lunar New Year, and then celebrations of the Lunar New Year itself. It continues on with ari datok turun on the 4th day, and then Semayang Teekong starting on the night of the 8th day of the Lunar New Year where kueh koo merah are made as an offering, and finally today, which is known as Chap Goh Meh to the Peranakan Chinese.

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Pengat is a traditional chuchi mulot (sweet dessert) that is customarily made and served on Chap Goh Meh. It is essentially a sweetened coconut broth comprising of a wide range of goodies from root vegetables to chewy tapioca gems, sago pearls. It sounds pretty much like bubur cha char isn’t it? Well, to the Peranakans who call the latter “bubor cha cheir“, there are some intricate differences which set these two very similar desserts apart. Or so that’s been said…

Firstly, it is important for Pengat to have either durian or bananas added. Pisang rajah is the default variety used for cooking by the Peranakans, prized for its sweetness and aroma. They are rather expensive now and not so commonly available from the neighbourhood fruit sellers here in Singapore, so pisang berangan or pisang mas are acceptable substitutes but as I’d said before, stay away from Cavendish bananas for this dessert. The addition of these fruits perfume the broth and makes the palate profile of the dessert more complicated and yummy! Secondly, to the Peranakans in Singapore and Malacca, gula melaka is almost synonymously associated with the classic Pengat while it is not the case for bubor cha cheir. Finally, the “kuah Pengat” i.e. the dessert broth is slightly more “pekat” i.e. thicker in consistency than bubor cha cheir which is more “cair“, i.e. watery and somewhat diluted in taste. The Pengat is categorically more “kaya” than bubor cha cheir, richer in all aspects of the dessert, lavishness of the number of ingredients used, deep flavours from the coconut milk and gula melaka and of course, the plenitude of textures one gets to enjoy when savoring every mouthful of broth and ingredients.

For that, the serving and enjoyment of Pengat on the last day of the Lunar New Year brings a resounding closure to the taon baru celebrations, one which began with kueh ee on Tang Chek, and ends with Pengat, yet another favorite Peranakan chuchi mulot as the grand finale on Chap Goh Meh.
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Pengat is not a dessert just for Chap Goh Meh. It is an everyday dessert and I make it often whenever I need a fix for the craving. But the Chap Goh Meh Pengat is much more elaborated in the number of ingredients used. The regular daily fare of Pengat is simple with just bananas or durian, coupled with coconut milk, gula melaka and some root vegetables like kledek or keladi, i.e. sweet potatoes or taro aka chinese yam. The Chap Goh Meh version may include a lot more ingredients, like sago pearls, black-eyed peas, green beans etc…
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For the daily meal Pengat, I am usually too “malas” i.e. lazy to cut all of the ingredients properly. Afterall it is all about saving time and since it is purely for own consumption, “tak kuasa” to do it the “proper way”. But for the Chap Goh Meh Pengat, we usually try to abide by traditions and potong serong each piece of sweet potato and taro, i.e. to cut them diagonally into diamonds, all of the same shape and size. It takes more time and effort to do so of course, but it is fun to do this once in a while to go by the old ways I guess.
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Pengat for Chap Goh Meh also includes sagu gunting, which some Peranakans simply call “tepong” . This is what I believe to be the main source of confusion between Pengat and Bubor Cha Cheir for the uninitiated, since these tapioca jelly gems are also used in both desserts but commonly associated with Bubor Cha Cheir. For me, the most interesting inclusion in the Chap Goh Meh Pengat must surely be kueh bakol, which is also cut into the same diamond shape as the other ingredients. This is what makes having Pengat on this day so special and meaningful.
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Pengat Chap Goh Meh Root Vegetables and Banana in Sweet Coconut Milk Broth

serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

100g peeled sweet potato, cut into diamond shapes, 1 cm in length
100g peeled taro aka chinese yam, cut into diamond shapes, 1 cm in length
50g sagu gunting, tapioca jelly gems, cut into diamond shapes, 1 cm in length (learn to make them here)
50g black-eyed peas, rinsed and cooked until slightly soft
50g green beans, rinsed and cooked until the beans just began to split**
50g small sago pearls, cooked, rinsed and drain (to learn how to cook bijik sagu here)
100g kueh bakol aka tnee kueh or nian gao, cut into diamond shapes, 1 cm in length (learn to make them here)
3-4 pandan leaves, shredded lengthwise into half and knotted into a bundle
100g gula melaka, chopped
70-100g granulated sugar, adjust to personal preference for sweetness
1 tsp salt
500g fresh coconut milk
300-400g water for cooking sweet potato and taro
2 large bananas, pisang rajah being the preferred variety, peeled and cut into small chunks
2 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 3-4 tbsp water, to thicken kuah pengat (optional)

Method

In a cooking pot, add water and bring to a boil.
Add cut sweet potato diamonds first and boil for 5 minutes.
Add cut taro diamonds and continue to boil until both ingredients are cooked and slightly soft. ***
Add chopped gula melaka and stir until dissolved.
Add coconut milk, salt, granulated sugar, knotted pandan leaves, kueh bakol, sagu gunting and heat up everything until very small bubbles begin to form on the edges of the coconut milk. DO NOT ALLOW THE COCONUT MILK TO COME TO A BOIL. ****
Add cooked green beans and black-eye peas and mix well.
Thicken the broth at this point with cornstarch and water mixture if a thicker brother consistency is desired.
Add chunked bananas and turn off the flame.
Ladle into small dessert bowls and serve warm or cool it to room temperature before placing into fridge for a couple of hours and serve chilled. Both are equally yummy!

** Do not discard the water for cooking green beans. It makes an excellent drink to detox the body.

*** The sequence is important as taro takes a shorter time to cook and soften compared to sweet potatoes.

**** It is important to make sure that the coconut milk does not boil over or it may split, i.e. pecah santan.

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