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What Is Cendol?

By Katherine Koch
Updated Jan 27, 2024
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Cendol is a cold dessert that is popular in Malaysia. It’s also consumed in many other Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and southern Thailand. Often, it’s served in restaurants or sold as a street food in vendor booths. Made in a variety of ways, cendol almost always consists of green, chewy, jelly-like noodles mixed with coconut cream, palm syrup and pieces of ice.

The name "cendol" might come from the Indonesian word jendol, meaning "bump" or "bulge." Based on its appearance, it is easy for one to understand why this dish has that name. Worm-shaped noodles that look like squiggly bumps and bulges are the main ingredient in the dish. The glutinous noodles are formed from mung bean, also called pea flour, as well as rice flour, with a little tapioca added. The green coloring and distinctive vanilla flavor comes from the leaves of the pandan plant.

Prior to the arrival of refrigeration in southeast Asia, cendol was served at room temperature. It still was a flavorful dish, but the addition of ice gave it an extra dimension and made it a favorite during warm weather. Although shaved ice is preferred, many cooks serve this dessert with chopped or even large cubes of ice.

The noodles can be easily made at home, and for the cendol connoisseur, it's not considered a chore. First, the pandan leaves are pureed with alkaline water. Then the juice and water are combined and cooked until the mixture thickens. The dough is then pushed through a frame or a sieve into a basin of ice water to create worm shapes. After the noodles toughen up, they’re rinsed with water.

As important as the noodles are to cendol, it is the syrup, known as gula in Malaysia, that gives the dessert its distinctive and sweet taste. This simple syrup is created from palm sugar and water that is cooked until it turns thick and brown. Although other sugars and sweeteners can be used, many cendol lovers say that the rich and complex flavors of the palm gula are what make this dessert special. Cendol is served in a bowl or large glass with the noodles, syrup, coconut cream and shaved ice. Additional ingredients, such as sweet red beans or creamed corn, can be added for variety.

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