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Full of sweet, sumptuous flavors and beautiful colors, Indonesian desserts are one of Southeast Asia’s most delicious culinary surprises.
With thousands of islands and a range of exotic ingredients all contributing to Indonesia’s diverse cuisine, it’s no wonder the country’s desserts are such a delight to see, smell, and taste.
Prepare yourself for plenty of Southeast Asian magic and awe, as a native writer takes us on a fascinating journey through 18 of Indonesia’s most popular desserts.
Klepon is one of the famous Indonesian sweets. These little green balls, covered with shredded coconut, are popular throughout the country.
Klepon may have a different name in different regions. For example, if you travel to Sulawesi or Sumatra, you might recognize it as Onde-Onde.
While its appearance might be tiny and cute, this dessert can flood your taste buds with sweet liquid palm sugar (coconut sugar).
Lapis Legit, also known as Spekkoek, is a delicious multi-layered Indonesian dessert, originating from the Netherlands.
It’s popular in Java and Bali, and it is usually sold per whole cake.
This firm and sweet cake is made of all-purpose flour and has a unique look, with both dark and light layers. Because of this, it’s also known as the thousand-layer cake.
The original Lapis Legit usually has prunes and cheese. Nowadays, the modern version with cinnamon or chocolate is far more common.
Kue Putu is a traditional Indonesian dessert and once a wildly popular street food.
Although the ingredients are a simple combination of pandan paste, rice flour, grated palm sugar, and shredded coconut, the cooking process dates back generations.
To make it, you need to use 5-6cm of bamboo as the cake mold, adding the dough up to half of the bamboo’s height.
Then, you add palm sugar and, finally, more mixture until the bamboo is full. Once you’ve finished, steam it for about 5 minutes.
Kue Putu sellers were an iconic part of Indonesian culture in earlier centuries because they made high pitch whistle-like (or steam locomotive) sound while selling the dessert on your street.
“Lapis” means “layer”, hence the name of this very popular Indonesian layer cake.
However, there are several differences between Kue Lapis and Lapis Legit, making it easy for you to recognize which one is which.
First, both use different ingredients. Lapis Legit uses all-purpose flour, while Kue Lapis uses rice flour or glutinous rice flour, mixed with coconut milk.
Second, both have very recognizable appearances. Kue Lapis uses food coloring paste (of any color) to create different colored layers, where Lapis Legit has light and dark layers.
It’s also uncommon to see a whole Kue Lapis at the market. It’s almost always sold as slices individually.
The last difference is the cooking process. Instead of being baked in an oven like Lapis Legit, you need a steamer to make Kue Lapis.
A perfectly cooked Kue Lapis will enable you to peel each layer easily. Give it a try; it’s an alternative and unique way to eat Kue Lapis.
Influenced by Chinese tradition, it is said that the original name of this Indonesian dessert is Ang Ku Ku (Ang = red, Ku = turtle), which symbolizes prosperity and happiness.
Kue Ku welcomes your first bite with a rich flavor and sticky texture, due to the mung bean paste that’s packed inside.
This dessert is traditionally a part of Chinese New Year events, but today you can find it anytime anywhere.
Every day, people are finding new and creative ways to make this delicious dessert, with new colors and ingredients.
Many sources state Wajik dates back to 1500, during the Majapahit Kingdom era.
This long history isn’t the only thing that makes it special. It has a unique diamond shape, while the ingredients of glutinous rice, palm sugar, coconut milk help create a sweet flavor and sticky texture.
This dessert is something of a legend, and it’s rare to find unless you’re in Central Java area and explore the local markets.
Other occasions that might give you an opportunity to taste Wajik are Javanese wedding and engagement or cultural events.
Having food with glutinous rice as its main ingredient is vital in all Javanese weddings. This is because glutinous rice helps things stick together, no matter what!
Being a tropical country, Indonesia has many variants of banana. Hence, you can find many Indonesian dishes with banana.
These include Pisang Goreng (Banana Fritter), Nagasari, Getuk Pisang, Piscok, Pisang Bolen, Es Pisang Ijo, Pisang Bakar, and many more.
Banana Fritter is a humble dessert that is easy to make, easy to find, and inexpensive to buy.
To make this dessert, simply slice up a couple of bananas, then mix them with batter and fry in hot cooking oil.
If you’d rather leave the cooking to locals, you’ll find these delicious fritters sold by street vendors throughout Indonesia. It’s so cheap to buy and so delicious to try.
Dadar Gulung consists of shredded coconut, mixed and cooked with palm sugar, then rolled in a thin pancake skin.
The “green” Dadar Gulung is the most typical version of this sweet, although today you can also find brown variations, along with other colors.
The color usually represents the flavor of the pancake skin: green for pandan flavor, and brown for a chocolate flavor.
It’s another simple and easy-to-find Indonesian dessert, that’s a treat for both your tastebuds and your stomach!
“Bugis” is one of the Indonesian tribes in Sulawesi, so Kue Bugis literally means “kue” (sweet) from Bugis.
Like Dadar Gulung, this dessert also has sweet grated coconut filling. However, Kue Bugis uses glutinous rice flour instead of pancake skin. Once cooked, it’s wrapped in banana leaf.
For the sake of practicality, although it’s not environmentally friendly, some people use plastic wrappers to substitute banana leaf.
In Java, people usually call this dessert Kue Mendut or Koci-Koci, as it’s one of the oldest and most traditional delicacies.
This Indonesian dessert is widely available in local markets or at local events. It’s a bite-sized explosion of yum, without a doubt.
Getuk is a starchy and delicate Javanese dessert. It’s made from cassava that’s peeled, mashed, steamed, and mixed with grated coconut and sugar.
Cassava is plentiful in Java, hence why many Javanese people use it to make so many of their foods. They see cassava as a humble ingredient and a symbol of modesty.
There are many types of Getuk. They come in a number of different colors, and some as more savory desserts, without the shredded coconut.
If you travel to Kediri, a city in East Java, you’ll find a sweet called Getuk Pisang. Just like its name, it’s made of banana instead of cassava.
If translated literally, “lumpur” means mud in English. But you’d be crazy to think this dessert tastes anything like mud!
Kue Lumpur has a gooey texture, tastes sweet, and the coconut milk in the ingredients gives a slight savory aftertaste.
It is believed that Kue Lumpur is inspired by the Portuguese Egg Tarts (Pastéis de Nata).
Raisin and finely sliced young coconut usually are used as toppings. You can find this dessert easily in Sidoarjo or Surabaya, East Java.
Ongol-Ongol is a name you won’t forget too soon! This traditional snack is very popular in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia.
Ongol-Ongol is made from mung bean flour, cassava, glutinous rice flour, or sago flour.
It has a soft and chewy texture similar, very similar to Japanese “mochi”. The sweet taste is very unique, due to the palm sugar used in the recipe.
Just like many Indonesian desserts, Ongol-Ongol is covered with desiccated fresh coconut. This adds a crunchy texture, and it balances the sweetness.
Serabi is a rice flour pancake with a gooey texture. It’s sweet, filling, and very versatile.
This is a must-eat dessert when you travel to Solo, Central Java. Many famous Serabi sellers claim to use traditional recipes from their ancestors, dating back thousands of years.
In fact, some of these sellers still use a traditional clay furnace to cook their delicious Serabi.
Traditionally, Serabi was sweetened with coconut milk and sugar. Today, you can get it with a range of sweet and savory toppings, including cheese, chocolate sprinkles, and banana.
You can also find Serabi in other cities in Indonesia, although their appearance and taste might be slightly different from Serabi Solo.
Nagasari is traditionally Indonesian, but popular all over Southeast Asia. It’s a steamed cake that’s made from rice flour, sugar, and coconut milk, stuffed with sliced banana.
It’s commonly wrapped in a banana leaf before serving. Inside, you’ll discover a pearly white dessert with a fragrant aroma, ready to be eaten.
This delicious dessert is easy to find everywhere, even in communal feast or cultural events.
Since there are so many types of banana available in Indonesia, you can make your own Nagasari with pretty much any type of banana.
If you’re in an area with limited options of bananas, try to find ripe plantain to deliver a deeper, savory flavor.
Originating from West Java, Colenak is a simple and filling cake, made from cassava and butter.
Its name means to ‘poke’, referring to the fact you dip the cake bites in a tasty side sauce: the real star of the show.
The sauce is made of desiccated coconut mixed with palm sugar. Indonesian people usually eat this dessert with tea or coffee.
Carabikang is a delightful baked cake of flour, coconut milk, sugar, and bay flowers, with an utterly unique texture and appearance.
When I first saw this dessert, I was amazed. Its unique shape and colors make it look like a bed of colorful flowers.
Making Carabikang is a delicate process, and it requires plenty of practice. This dessert tastes best when eaten warm.
Pai Susu Bali is a delicious Balinese milk custard tart. It has a thin, flat shape, a rich, jelly-like center, and a crumbly outer casing.
Originally an egg tart, today you can find Pai Susu Bali with many toppings or flavors, such as cheese, raisins, almonds, strawberries, and chocolate.
Since Bali is a popular tourist destination, Pai Susu Bali is considered as a tasty, unique gift from Bali. Local tourists usually buy boxes of Pai Susu to bring back home.
There’s no standardized recipe for Pai Susu Bali, so you can try so many different flavors and variations from the thousands of sellers and street food vendors.
Kue Cucur is a traditional Indonesian snack, made with rice flour and palm sugar. It’s thicker in the middle and thiner around the edges.
Kue Cucur is very popular throughout Southeast Asia. It exists as Pinajaran or Penyaram in Malaysia, Kuih Pinyaram in Brunei Darussalam, and Khanom Chuchun in Thailand.
You can even find this kind of snack in India, which is believed to be the birthplace of Kue Cucur.
It is said that this dessert is a symbol of love, and it’s common to find Kue Cucur in “love” ceremonies, such as weddings.
Southeast Asia is known for some of the most eye-catching and mind-blowing desserts of any world cuisine. Indonesia very much stays true to this testament.
There’s so much love and joy to experience when delving in and trying all of the country’s unique and colorful desserts.
The flavors are sweet, sharp, and savory, while the textures are diverse. Plus, many of the country’s desserts are a true work of art to behold.
Indonesians prepare their food with such love and passion. Eating locally prepared, delicious desserts at warungs and family-run restaurants is one of the most magical parts of Indonesian cuisine.
Whether you’re spending time in Indonesia, or looking to bring it into your kitchen at home, don’t overlook the desserts. There’s so much flavor and joy to experience.
Before we go, one last time, here is the full list of all Indonesian foods covered in this article.
Be sure to have this list of Indonesian desserts handy when you visit so that you can try one or more of these popular and traditional desserts.
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Contributor: Sari Rachmatika is an English-Indonesian translator and writer, with a deep passion for sharing Indonesian cooking and culture with the rest of the world.
Images licensed via Shutterstock
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