Bubur Cha Cha is a Malaysian sweet dessert soup that consists of coconut milk, diced yam or sweet potato, taro, and sago pearls. It’s fragranced with pandan leaves and is enjoyed either cold or warm.
When summer rolls around, I’m all about the sweet soupy desserts.
But one of my favourite sweet soups (or “tong sui” in Cantonese) is Bubur Cha Cha.
What is Bubur Cha Cha?
Bubur Cha Cha is a creamy, sweet Malaysian dessert originating from the Nyonya (Peranakan Chinese).
Pronounced “bo bo cha cha” or “mo mo cha cha” — in Malay, bubur = porridge, and cha cha = well, there’s no consensus on what it actually means.
Some people think it eludes to a dance of sorts, and some think it refers to a mis-approximation of the Hokkien word “che che” which means prosperity.
Who are the Nyonya?
They are also known as Peranakan Chinese who are of mixed Chinese-Malay heritage.
Chinese men would set out onto the spice trade route and settle in their new villages, marrying the local Malay women.
Blending together Chinese and Malay heritage, traditional Chinese dishes were reformed using local spices and ingredients, thus creating a hybrid cuisine.
Ingredients for Bubur Cha Cha
Bubur cha cha contains a medley of ingredients which usually include:
- yam (or sweet potato): any type of yam or sweet potato will work for this recipe. Personally, I love the vivid colours from purple yam, but at times, I make it with regular orange sweet potato.
- taro: is a starchy root vegetable with a brown exterior, white flesh and purple speckles on the inside. When cooked, it is similar to a potato in texture. Tip: it can cause skin irritation so if you have sensitive skin, you may want to use gloves to handle the taro.
- sago pearls: these are dried white pearls that are commonly found in Asian grocery stores. They come in various sizes, and are great in desserts, such as Mango Pomelo Sago Pudding. For this dessert, choose small sago pearls, not the large ones for bubble tea. They do not need to be soaked prior to cooking.
- tapioca jelly: like boba in bubble tea, tapioca jellies are chewy in texture. It’s made with tapioca starch and water.
- palm sugar: usually comes in discs, and is less sweet than granulated sugar. If you can’t find palm sugar, you can use rock sugar, coconut sugar or granulated sugar instead.
- pandan: also known as screwpine, it is a long blade-like leaf that is used as flavouring in many Southeast Asian dishes. I use it in my Kaya Coconut Jam and Kueh Dadar.
- coconut milk: I prefer to use canned coconut milk as it delivers the best flavour.
Variations and substitutions
Each region has its own version of Bubur Cha Cha. Other iterations may incorporate:
- black eyed peas
- colourful tapioca jellies
- yam instead of sweet potato
If you don’t like coconut milk, you can try a dairy-free oat or almond milk.
How to make Bubur Cha Cha
The easiest way to make Bubur cha cha is to cook all of the components separately and then bring them together into the coconut milk.
The yam and taro are boiled separately from the sago and tapioca jellies.
I find this is the best way to preserve the texture of each ingredient. Otherwise, you might run into the problem of overcooked, mushy yams, and undercooked tapioca jellies.
How to make tapioca jellies
For the tapioca jellies, you can make these at home using 2 ingredients:
- tapioca starch and
- hot water
Similar to my recipe for Homemade Bubble Tea Tapioca Pearls (Boba), you just mix hot boiling water into the tapioca starch and mix together to form a dough.
Note: It’s important that the ratio of water to tapioca starch is right; otherwise you will end up with a gummy mess. Add the water in a little at a time until it reaches a “playdough” consistency.
If you want to make the jellies colourful, you can add food colouring of your choice (I used pink pitaya natural food powder) to make them pink.
To make the star jellies, I rolled out the dough using a rolling pin and used a small cookie cutter to cut out star shapes.
How to cook sago pearls
Sago pearls and tapioca jellies provide chewy texture in this soup. White sago pearls come in different sizes.
For this dessert, we’re using small sago pearls (not the medium or large sized ones for bubble tea). You can pick up packages of sago pearls at Asian supermarkets.
To cook the sago pearls, add the water into the pot, bring it to a boil, and then dump the sago pearls in. Give it a stir.
Remove it from the heat, and intermittently stir the sago pearls from time to time. It may seem strange to cook the pearls this way, but this is an optimum way to obtain perfect chewy texture in the sago.
Once the sago pearls turn translucent, they’re ready to use.
Tip: it’s perfectly fine if there’s still a bit of white opaqueness in the centre.
Pandan coconut milk
The majority of the flavour from Bubur Cha Cha is from the pandan-infused coconut milk.
Pandan leaf is also known as screwpine leaf, and is found most commonly frozen in Asian supermarkets. Pandan leaf is aromatic and is akin to vanilla in the West.
To make the pandan coconut milk, add water to a large pot and bring it a boil. Add in the palm sugar and stir until it’s dissolved.
Tie the pandan leaves into a knot and place into the pot. Add in the coconut milk and stir together.
Add the cooked yam, taro, tapioca jellies and sago into the coconut milk and heat until just warmed.
When is it eaten?
Traditionally, Bubur Cha Cha is eaten and served to friends and family during the 15th of the Chinese New Year, but now it is commonly found all year round.
How do you serve it?
Bubur Cha Cha can be served either hot or cold. (Personally, I love it warmed up, as the coconut milk tends to solidify when it’s cool).
How to store Bubur Cha Cha
You can store Bubur Cha Cha in an airtight container for up to 5 days in the fridge.
If you plan on eating it warm, heat it in a saucepan. You may need to add a little more coconut milk to loosen it, as the jellies will have congealed.
You can also microwave it if enjoying it warm.
Can you freeze Bubur Cha Cha?
No, it’s not suitable for freezing.
A delicious and healthy dessert
Compared to Western desserts, Asian dessert soups tend to be a little more “healthier” as they incorporate ingredients such as beans (eg. red azuki beans) and vegetables (eg. yams, sweet potatoes).
I think that’s my favourite part of Bubur cha cha — the fact that I can enjoy a sweet dessert, yet still get my intake of fiber from the yams and taro.
This delicious medley of starchy root vegetables cooked in a lightly sweetened, fragrant coconut milk is thick, rich and will fill you up. (After sitting a while, the mixture will thicken up).
Commonly served as a street food on the streets of Malaysia, you can find this any time of day — as a dessert, snack, or even a meal.
Other Malaysian recipes you may like
Bubur Cha Cha is vegan, gluten-free, and can be a hearty, nutritious and nourishing dessert — cold or hot, try out this recipe and see why it’s one of my childhood favourites.
Have you had this Malaysian Chinese dessert before? Let me know if you try out my recipe — tag me on Instagram @siftandsimmer or leave me a comment/rating below!
Bubur Cha Cha
For accuracy and precision in baking recipes, use weight (metric) measurements when available.
- 1 large taro root peeled and diced
- 1 medium yellow yam peeled and diced
- 1 medium purple yam peeled and diced
- 3 C water
- 2-3 discs palm sugar (sweeten to taste)
- 3-4 pandan leaves knotted
- 1 ½ cans coconut milk
Pink Tapioca Jellies:
- 50 g tapioca starch
- ¼ C hot boiled water
- 8 g pink pitaya powder
- ½ C dried sago pearls
- 1 C water
Boil the taro and yam:
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add in the diced taro and yam. Boil until taro and yam have softened, about 10-15 minutes. Drain into a colander and set aside.
Make the tapioca jellies:
- Next, make the tapioca jellies. Put the tapioca starch and pink pitaya powder into a medium bowl and add in the hot boiling water. Use a spatula to mix until a dough forms. If the dough feels too dry, add in a little water at a time. The consistency should feel like playdough.
- Use your hands to knead the dough and transfer it onto a flat surface. Roll into a long coil and cut into desired shape. Or flatten with a rolling pin and use a small cookie cutter to cut out shapes (like I did with the stars). Dust with additional tapioca starch if it's too sticky.
- Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. Add in the tapioca jellies and cook for about 6-7 minutes, until they float to the top. Strain out the jellies and set aside in a clean bowl.
Cook the sago pearls:
- Using a small pot, add in the 1 C water and bring to a boil.
- Pour in the sago pearls, give it a quick stir and turn off the heat. Remove the pot from heat and replace the lid. Give it a stir every so often. The sago pearls will be cooked when they're translucent, about 20-30 minutes.
- In a large pot, add the 3 C of water and the palm sugar discs. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar.
- Tie the pandan leaves into a knot and throw them into the pot. When the sugar has completely dissolved, bring the heat down to a simmer and stir in the coconut milk. Remove the pandan leaves.
- Next, gently add the cooked taro, yam, tapioca jellies, and sago pearls into the coconut milk. When the mixture is warmed through, turn off the heat and serve.
- Serve bubur cha cha warm or chilled.
This article was originally published for Curious Cuisiniere.