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What Is Kolak?

Sara Schmidt
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Kolak is an Indonesian treat made from coconut milk, palm sugar, and other ingredients, such as fruit or beans. The dish, which may also be spelled kolek, resembles a soup or stew in appearance. If bananas are included, the food is known as kolek pisang.

Though Westerners might refer to it as an Indonesian dessert, many people might say that Indonesian desserts do not exist in the way Westerners see desserts. Instead, kolak is an example of what Westerners consider to be snack foods. A heavy treat, kolak is usually not eaten after a meal, but after an afternoon nap instead. Some people, however, do eat the sweet as an appetizer.

Coconut milk, or gravy, swims around a variety of ingredients in this dish. Aside from mung beans and bananas, sweet potatoes, palm fruit, and other fruits or roots may be added. Tapioca pearls are another common ingredient. Pumpkin is a favorite ingredient in kolek, as is yuca. Jackfruit is another popular component used in the snack's recipe.

This dish is usually flavored with a screwpine, or pandan leaf, though other flavoring agents, such as cinnamon and clove sticks, are often used as well. Most recipes also call for salt. Fruits and vegetables are washed and cut into cubes before being added to the kolak. All of these ingredients are boiled together in water in a pan until soft, then sweetened to taste before serving with heated coconut milk.

Both sweet and savory, this treat is considered very fragrant. Its scent can be so overpowering that some cooks add additional elements to mask the smell. Pandan leaves are often added for this reason.

When kolak is fresh, it is sometimes served hot. Many people, however, prefer it chilled. The treat may not be kept for more than one day due to the perishable nature of its main ingredient, milk. It is generally cheaper to prepare the dish at home rather than purchasing it at a supermarket, particularly in countries where the ingredients used are rarely found. Kolak is also easily found within Indonesian restaurants, as well as among street food vendors.

The traditional time to serve kolak is during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During Iftar, when Muslims break their Ramadan fast, they often serve the sweet. Since much sugar may be lost from the body during fasting, Muslims enjoy this sugary dish after abstaining from sweets for so long.

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Sara Schmidt
By Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for DelightedCooking, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
Discussion Comments
By kylee07drg — On Sep 10, 2011

My neighbors made some kolak for me to try once. I was spending the day at their house, so I participated in the afternoon nap.

When we awoke, we ate the kolak. The sugar and fruit definitely gave me a rush. I lost my grogginess after a few spoonfuls, and when I finished the bowl, I was ready for anything.

I know that it had pumpkin, cinnamon, and cloves in it. The flavor reminded me a little of pumpkin pie, which I love. Now, whenever I eat pumpkin pie, I think of the kolak.

My neighbors moved away, and I haven’t had any kolak since that day. If I ever talk to them again, I’m getting the recipe.

By ddljohn — On Sep 10, 2011

This sounds just like the dessert I had in Malaysia, called "bubur cha cha." It is also a specialty during holidays. It is made with coconut milk, sugar, pandan leaves, yams and sweet potatoes. I think some people put fruit too. The family I stayed with liked it with only yams, sweet potatoes and a gelatinous ingredient which I'm not sure of the name.

It is made exactly the same way as kolak though. Bubur cha cha must be it's cousin. I think there are different versions of kolak all over Asia actually, with some minor differences.

By fify — On Sep 09, 2011

Kolak is my favorite comfort food! Creamy and sweet, it always lifts my spirits when I'm feeling down or if the weather is rainy again and I'm stuck in the house.

I've had it many times and I know that the more the authentic ingredients, the better the kolak tastes. But I agree with the article that it's hard to find all of the ingredients, especially in the US! I can find pandan leaves and palm sugar at the Asian store but it's such a long drive that I'm just too lazy to go buy it sometimes.

But this doesn't stop me from making kolak! I make it with whatever I have. The minimum ingredients are sugar, coconut milk, bananas or sweet potato and vanilla essence. It's still kolak and still makes me happy! If I have all the ingredients, then of course, I make it the proper way.

By SteamLouis — On Sep 09, 2011

I am from Indonesia. Kolak is preferred during Ramadan not just because it is sweet. In fact, having a lot of sweets after a long period of fasting is not healthy because it will raise sugar in the body very quickly.

Kolak is the preferred dessert of Ramadan because of the milk ingredient. Milk has protein and calcium and it also slows down the release of sugar in the body. So after fasting, having kolak slowly raises sugar and it makes me feel full of energy once again and satisfies my hunger.

It's also great when it's chilled because the time of Ramadan changes every year. For many years, it is during summer. So kolak is also very refreshing to have during summer days, especially when it collides with Ramadan.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for DelightedCooking, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
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