Traditional Malay Dessert: Ondeh-ondeh

If you have traveled to the Southeast Asia before, you have probably eaten or heard of a Malay dessert called Ondeh-ondeh (pronounced as “own-day own-day“). This popular dessert and tea-time snack can be found in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia (known as Klepon in Indonesia). It was believed that the Malay inherited their food culture from the ancestral lands of the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and islands of Indonesia, or basically the Malay Archipelago. The traditional Malay desserts are often cooked with ingredients such as coconut, palm sugar, rice flour and glutinous rice flour. Ondeh-ondeh are little glutinous rice balls filled with palm sugar and coated with grated coconut.


There are various ways to make ondeh-ondeh. When I attended a cultural cooking class in Cambodia, a dessert called Nom Plaer Ay was taught during the class. Surprisingly, it was extremely similar to ondeh-ondeh, except that the dough consisted of glutinous rice flour and water only. In contrast, for some traditional recipes in Malaysia and Singapore, mashed sweet potatoes are added when making the dough. Some prefer to use freshly squeezed pandan juice or coconut milk than plain water to get a nice green-coloured dough. As a result, you could make colourful ondeh-ondeh just by using different types of sweet potatoes.


The soul of ondeh-ondeh, for me, is the burst of palm sugar syrup when you bite on the chewy glutinous rice balls. Palm sugar can be found usually at the Asian groceries section of a supermarket. It is often sold in round blocks of approximately 50 g each. When I used it as a filling, I chopped the palm sugar into pieces with a knife. Palm sugar can be substituted with cubes of brown sugar or rock sugar if palm sugar is not available, but the flavor will be compromised.

Ingredients (yield: 30 pieces)

(A) Dough
Mashed sweet potato 150g
Glutinous rice flour 100g
Water 50 – 70g

(B) Filling
Palm Sugar 80g
Sugar 1/2 tsp
Salt a pinch

(C) Coating
Grated coconut 150g
Salt a pinch
Pandan leaves 2 pieces

(D) For cooking the ondeh-ondeh
Boiling water 1.5 L
Pandan leaves 2 pieces, tied into a knot


  1. To prepare the filling, cut palm sugar into small pieces, and seasoned with a pinch of salt. Set aside.
  2. To prepare the coconut coating, steam the grated coconut with pandan leaves and salt for 20 minutes. Set aside.
  3. To make the dough, cut the sweet potatoes into smaller pieces and steam until soft. Mash the sweet potatoes while hot.
  4. Add glutinous rice flour to the hot sweet potatoes. Gradually add the water and knead into a dough. You may need to add more or use less water depending on the moisture content of the sweet potatoes and glutinous rice flour.
  5. Divide the dough into small portions of 10 grams each.
  6. Put approximately a 1/4 teaspoon of the filling at the centre, and pinch to seal and roll into a small glutinous rice balls.
  7. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water with pandan leaves to a gentle boil. Drop each glutinous rice ball in to the water.
  8. When they float, continue to cook for about 1 minute, before removing them.
  9. Coat them immediately with the steamed grated coconut. (Handle them gently as they are very soft and fragile when hot.)
  10. Serve at room temperature.



Ondeh-ondeh should be eaten on the same day they are prepared. Due to the use of grated coconut, the delicate dessert should not be kept for more than a day because coconut spoils easily, especially in a warm and humid environment.


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