Malaysia is known throughout the world as a culinary haven for avid foodies. From world-famous street food to cuisine steeped in cultural heritage, Malaysia is home to mouthwatering gems that can satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. Naturally, Malaysian desserts are equally as enticing, boasting a plethora of local sweet treats and novelty desserts that come in different colors and flavors!
Whether served warm or chilled, these 30 Malaysian desserts will certainly make you fall in love even more with the ever-changing buffet table known as Malaysia. Warning: sugar rush ahead!
Proper Malaysian desserts
1. Ais Kacang
If nasi lemak is the national dish of Malaysia, then ais kacang is the national dessert! Beloved by Malaysians from all walks of life, this delightful Malaysian dessert can be found in every corner of the country, be it in food courts, restaurants, or even the odd stall by the side of the road!
Traditionally, ais kacang consists of just shaved ice and sweet colored syrup. However, these days, ais kacang is usually topped with a variety of fun toppings, ranging from crunchy peanuts and red beans to canned corn and jelly. In some variations, you might even find ice cream and fresh fruits thrown into the mix! Sweet and refreshing, it’s the perfect way to stave off the Malaysian heat!
Of all the Malaysian desserts on this list, cendol is my favorite! Similar to ais kacang, cendol is readily available in almost every state in Malaysia. However, Penang cendol is easily the best of the lot. In fact, there’s a cendol stall on Penang Road that is so famous that even international tourists travel long and far just for a taste!
Often served chilled with large chunks of ice, cendol consists primarily of thin, green rice flour jelly, red beans, coconut milk, and palm sugar. It is light on the palette yet so flavorful at the same time! While there have been some…innovative versions of cendol (such as cendol with durian), the simple, classic variety is still the best. Trust me, I’d know. I’m Penangite after all!
3. Bubur Cha Cha
Unlike ais kacang and cendol, bubur cha cha is one of those Malaysian desserts that can be served either warm or cold. Made primarily using yams, sweet potatoes, and taro, bubur cha cha is a traditional Nyonya-style dessert that is most popular in Melaka, Penang and other Malaysian states with strong Peranakan cultural heritage.
The base of the dessert is sweet coconut milk and it often comes with a kaleidoscope of different colored tapioca jellies and sago pearls. This makes it one of the sweetest, creamiest, AND most colorful Malaysian desserts!
4. Leng Chee Kang @ Chin Pu Liang
Leng Chee Kang is arguably the most popular Malaysian dessert among the country’s Chinese community. This traditional dessert mainly consists of lotus seed (lean chee), ginkgo nuts, longan, and a variety of different ingredients like sweet potato and grass jelly. It is served either warm or cold in syrupy soup that’s sweetened with rock sugar.
The dessert is said to contain cooling properties, which is why it is also called Chin Pu Liang, meaning cooling and revitalizing. While the recipe differs a little bit from place to place, one sip of this is guaranteed to immediately quench your thirst!
5. Red Bean Soup
Another Malaysian dessert that is popular among the Chinese community is red bean soup. As the name suggests, the main ingredient in this classic treat is red beans, boiled in water that’s sweetened with rock sugar. Sometimes, to add an extra layer of fragrance and flavor, the water is infused with dried tangerine peels or pandan leaves too! Most of the time, red bean soup is served just as it is. However, you will sometimes also find extra ingredients like sago pearls or rice ball dumplings.
While it may look simple, making red bean soup is no simple task! I’ve tried it once myself and the process can take several hours since you must first soak the red beans overnight to soften them up. Thankfully, after all that labor of love, what you have is a deeply satisfying dessert that can be enjoyed either as a warm or cool treat!
6. Mung bean soup
Right after red bean soup, we have its cousin, mung bean soup! Often called green bean soup by the Chinese community, mung bean soup is one of the most nutritious Malaysian desserts you can find. After all, the main ingredients, mung beans, are packed full of vitamins and nutrients! Much like red bean soup, it is a simple dessert that’s boiled in sweetened water.
Occasionally, other ingredients like sago pearls, ginkgo nuts, and sweet potatoes are added for an extra dimension of flavor. However, even on its own, and whether served warm or chilled, mung bean soup is a traditional dessert that will keep you coming back for more!
7. Tau Fu Fah
Who’d have known that even tofu can be a sweet dessert? For the uninitiated, tau fu fah is a silky pudding that’s made using soybeans. It is incredibly light and refreshing on the palette, often served with a scoop of sweet syrup or gula melaka (palm sugar). Like the previous few Malaysian desserts on the list, you can enjoy tau fu fah either warm or chilled.
This traditional Cantonese-style dessert is most popular in cities like Ipoh and Bentong, where they are famous for their homemade soy products. If you ever find yourself in these places, you should definitely give this sweet, healthy treat a try!
8. Pulut hitam
In terms of color, I have to say that pulut hitam is the most intriguing among all Malaysian desserts. Made using black glutinous rice, this traditional Nyonya-style dessert is enriched using coconut milk, palm sugar, and rock sugar. Because the recipe calls for unpolished black glutinous rice, the resulting dessert is a deep shade of purplish black.
Pulut hitam has a thick consistency, almost like that of porridge. It can be served as it is (warm or chilled) or it can be upgraded with drizzles of coconut milk or ice cream for extra flavor.
Payasam is a traditional dessert that is popular among the Indian community in Malaysia. Basically, it’s a sweet pudding that’s made using either rice, vermicelli, tapioca, or sweet corn. Boiled in milk and sugar, payasam is usually served with nuts (almonds, cashews, and pistachios are most common), raisins, and cardamoms.
It can be served either hot or cold but I prefer the latter. The soft texture of the pudding combined with the burst of fragrance and flavor of the nuts and raisins is simply a joy for the tastebuds!
10. Sago Gula Melaka
Sometimes, the best Malaysian desserts are made with the simplest ingredients! Sago gula melaka is a pretty self-explanatory dessert. This Peranakan-style treat consists of only three ingredients: sago pearls, palm sugar, and sweet coconut milk drizzled on top.
This rudimentary dessert is popular for its contrasting textures and tastes: the chewy sago pearls, the smooth, syrupy palm sugar, and the fragrant, creamy coconut milk all combine perfectly for mouthful after mouthful of sinful gratification.
Of all the traditional Malaysian desserts, perhaps none are as divisive as dodol. For those who’ve never heard of it, dodol is a toffee-like candy that’s made primarily with palm sugar. It is super famous in Melaka and is one of the most sought-after edible souvenirs in the state. However, not everyone is a fan of the toffee-like consistency. The sweetness, while popular among some, can be a little overwhelming for others.
Regardless, I still consider it one of the Malaysian desserts one simply must try at least once. If you’re feeling adventurous, one popular variation of dodol is durian-flavored dodol. As you might expect, this version isn’t just sweet, it is also pungent! However, if you’re a fan of durian, you’ll probably adore this too!
12. Caramel Egg Custard
Malaysian kopitiams (traditional Chinese coffee shops) aren’t usually known for selling desserts. In fact, it’s quite rare to find anything sweet in these establishments. However, in some kopitiams in Ipoh, especially at Restoran Thean Chun, you’ll find this lovely treat.
The silky smooth custard pairs well with the flavorful caramel and almost slides down your throat. If you’re a fan of having dessert with your breakfast, I highly recommend giving this a try!
Desserts that double up as snacks
13. Apam balik
Apam balik is a traditional pancake that is cooked in little circular-shaped griddles. Often filled with peanuts, sugar, and sweet corn, these crepe-like Malaysian desserts can be found in almost every corner of the country. There are generally two types of apam balik: the thin ones often contain a little less filling and have a crispier outer crust. These are often eaten as snacks during tea. The thicker ones, on the other hand, are moist, fluffy, and loaded with sweet filling.
Fun fact: Even though apam balik is a famous Malaysian dessert, the sweet treat was actually invented by a Chinese general in Fujian Province during the late Qing Dynasty. Historically, apam balik (called majianguo in Mandarin) was invented as a way to provide warring soldiers with adequate food without disturbing the lives of the people. Soon after, the recipe spread throughout the region before eventually making its way to Malaysia!
14. Muah chee
Muah chee is one of those Malaysian desserts that I can eat every day and not get tired of. Often found in food courts or mobile carts by the side of the road, muah chee is basically the Malaysian version of mochi. It is made with sticky rice flour (mochiko) that is steamed and then coated with generous amounts of peanut powder and sugar. It is a chewy, sweet, and savory dessert/snack that is loved by Malaysians both young and old.
One particular version of muah chee that deserves special mention is the famous Ipoh muah chee found on Jalan Queen. Located at a stall called Hong Kee Mah Chee, the muah chee here can be paired with Fah Sang Woo, a thick, creamy syrup made with toasted peanuts and sugar. Drizzle this over your muah chee and oof, you’ll be absolutely spoiled silly by the taste!
15. Fried fritters
In Malaysia, we like to coat our fruits in batter and deep fry them till golden perfection. These crunchy Malaysian desserts are also the most popular tea-time snacks, often paired with a hot beverage in the afternoon. They can be found almost anywhere and are one of the most affordable Malaysian sweet treats you’ll find in the country.
The most common fried fritters include fried bananas, cempedak, and sweet potatoes. My favorite however is cekodok, A traditional ball-shaped fritter made with wheat flour and small chunks of banana. Sweet, savory, and crunchy on the outside, these fluffy balls of dough are simply irresistible, especially when they’re just fresh out of the fryer!
16. Sarawak layer cake
Sarawak layer cake is easily one of the most famous Malaysian desserts ever. As the name suggests, these layer cakes (or kek lapis in Malay) are most popular in Sarawak, even though you can probably find them in other states of Malaysia too. Coming in all manners of colors and flavors, Sarawak layer cakes also make for the perfect edible souvenirs for your loved ones at home.
What makes Sarawak layer cakes so special is the way they are made. Each cake is painstakingly baked layer by layer before being assembled into the rich, fragrant dessert that is sold in stores. The flavors range from typical selections like pandan and gula melaka to more modern variations like chocolate and Red Velvet. Incredibly moist and suitably sweet, these cakes are a must-try in Sarawak!
Nyonya and malay kuih
17. Ang ku kuih
Of all the colorful Malaysian kuihs (also spelled as “kueh”), ang ku kuih (literally meaning red tortoise cake in Hokkien) is one of my favorites. These brightly coloured traditional pastries are called as such because their shape and markings resemble a tortoise shell.
Said to symbolize good fortune, ang ku kuih is made using glutinous rice flour and sweet potatoes, with mung bean paste or ground peanuts being the most common fillings. The kuih rests on a piece of banana leaf which, when steamed, releases a subtle sweet fragrance that penetrates the dough and adds another layer of flavor.
Of course, like most other Malaysian desserts, ang ku kuih has gone through some modernization. For one, they aren’t just strictly red in color anymore. You’ll also find a variety of different fillings such as durian or coconut jam (I still prefer the original mung bean version!). There are even mini chilled jelly ang ku kuih that is filled with custard! However, if it’s your first time, I highly recommend the traditional red, mung bean paste ang ku kuih.
18. Kuih talam
Another common traditional kuih you’ll find in Malaysia is kuih talam. These traditional Nyonya pastries consist of two distinct layers: a white layer that consists of coconut cream, and a green layer that’s made with pandan. The tapioca flour that’s used in combination with regular rice flour gives this Malaysian dessert pastry a slightly gelatinous and chewy texture that allows you to truly savor the flavors.
19. Bingka ubi
I’m not gonna lie, growing up, this was one of those traditional Malaysian kuihs that I didn’t really like. I used to find the taste a little bit overwhelming. But as I grew older, I’ve learned to appreciate the humble bingka ubi. The main ingredients of this bright yellow Malaysian dessert are grated tapioca, palm sugar, coconut milk, and pandan-flavored custard.
In terms of texture, bingka ubi is a little chewy and gelatinous, with a crispy exterior that forms as a result of the grated coconut on top during the baking process. It is subtly sweet with plenty of fragrance thanks to the combination of coconut milk and pandan.
20. Kuih lapis
Another childhood favorite traditional pastry of mine is kuih lapis. Called jiu cheng gao in Mandarin, this traditional Nyonya kuih consists of nine distinct and colorful layers, making it one of the prettiest Malaysian desserts you’ll find. This rainbow-colored kuih consists of coconut milk, rice flour, tapioca flour, and sugar. It gets its fragrance and flavor from the addition of pandan leaves.
It is extremely soft and almost melts in your mouth when you eat it. When I was a child, what I liked to do was to peel back and eat each layer one by one. It was a sticky but fun way to eat kuih lapis. Of course, you could just eat it all in one bite but where’s the joy in that?
If I had to describe ondeh-ondeh using just one phrase, it would be “literally bursting with flavor”. This sweet, neon-green Malaysian dessert pastry is no more than the size of a ping pong ball.
Ondeh-ondeh is coated in grated coconut to provide a contrasting texture to the soft dough made from glutinous rice but the main star of this kuih is the gooey palm sugar syrup in its core. As you bite into it, expect a surprising pop of sweetness as the filling explodes onto your palette!
22. Kuih ketayap
Also known as kuih dadar, kuih ketayap is the Malaysian dessert equivalent of a spring roll. A local favorite when it comes to sweet tea-time pastries, kuih ketayap is basically a green, tube-shaped pandan crepe that’s filled to the brim with sweet toasted shredded coconut. Each bite is an addictive contrast of flavors and textures that will keep you wanting more. Like most other Malay and Nyonya kuih, you can kuih ketayap pretty much anywhere in Malaysia.
23. Kuih tai tai
As far as traditional Nyonya kuihs go, kuih tai tai is arguably the most famous and easily recognizable one. This is thanks to its signature blue color, achieved by steaming butterfly pea flowers together with the glutinous rice that is used to make this iconic Malaysian dessert snack. The kuih on its own doesn’t really taste like anything. After all, it is just elegantly-colored glutinous rice.
However, when paired with a generous dollop of kaya (coconut jam), the texture of the kuih combined with the burst of sweet flavor is incredible.
24. Putu mayam
I suppose, in a way, you can say that putu mayam is the Malaysian dessert equivalent of dragon’s beard candy. However, that comparison is a loose one to say the least. Traditionally sold by the Indian community in Malaysia, putu mayam is a common sweet snack made using rice flour and coconut milk.
The mixture is pushed through a sieve to create these thin, vermicelli-like strands that are light on the palette. To give putu mayam an extra kick, these steamed traditional sweet treats are served with a generous helping of palm sugar on the side. Simply dip the putu mayam in the sugar and enjoy the immensely satisfying taste!
25. Pulut inti
On the outside, pulut inti looks like a dumpling. In reality though, it’s a super-simple Nyonya Malaysian dessert pastry that consists of only two ingredients: glutinous rice, and sweet, toasted coconut. This traditional kuih is often wrapped in banana leaves to give it an extra whiff of fragrance and flavor and its bite-sized serving means you can easily eat too much of this without even realizing it. Then again, with such enticing flavors, I wouldn’t blame you at all if that were the case!
26. Kuih cara manis
Kuih cara manis (or simply just kuih cara) is one of those Malaysian desserts that even some locals have forgotten about. Let’s just say, if Hong Kong is famous for its eggettes, then kuih cara is the Malaysian counterpart that deserves a whole lot more love and recognition.
This bite-sized sweet treat is made using a combination of eggs, flour, and coconut milk. It is flavored using pandan leaves which gives it its iconic green color. Kuih cara manis is usually filled with either coconut jam or palm sugar and baked in specialized pans that give them their unique shape. Often sold in pairs (one top and one bottom), kuih cara makes for a fun, sweet snack during tea. Just make sure you don’t eat too many of them at the same time if you want to avoid a sugar rush!
27. Gulab jamun
Gulab jamun is perhaps one of the most common Indian-Malaysian desserts you’ll find. Easily available in most Indian restaurants in the country, these sweet treats are the perfect way to end your meal with. These sweet balls are basically milk solids that are drenched in a sugary syrup. They usually come with either almonds or cashews on top for added flavor and texture. Each bite is an explosive burst of flavor that will leave you absolutely satisfied.
Halwa is a dense, sweet dessert that is most common among the Indian community in Malaysia. It is made primarily using either flour or nut butter. The sweetness of Halwa comes from either sweetened milk or sugar that is added to the mix. The texture is often smooth, almost like a thick soup that magically melts in your mouth. Topped with nuts and raisins, Halwa (and all its various forms and variations) can be found in almost any traditional Indian bakery in the country.
Kesari is a common Malaysian dessert with South Indian roots. This soft and fluffy dessert is primarily made from ghee, semolina, sugar, and nuts. While you can find kesari throughout the year, it is most readily available during festivities like weddings or during Diwali. Its fluffy, sweet texture is relatively light on the palette, and the crunchy nuts provide a nice contrast and bite too!
Finally, ladoos (or laddu as it is spelled in some places) are ball-shaped sweets that are most often served during weddings and religious festivities. Made using just flour, ghee, and sugar, these addictively tasty desserts are moderately sweet, savory, and fragrant. Occasionally, nuts and dried raisins are also added to give it an extra dimension of flavor. Just like the other Indian sweets on this list, you can find ladoos in most traditional bakeries or at Indian restaurants.
Satisfy your sweet tooth!
And there you have it: 30 traditional Malaysian desserts that will absolutely satisfy any sweet tooth! The next time you visit this world-famous food haven, make sure to save some space for your after-meal treats. Otherwise, your tummy may never forgive you!