Pandan: A magic ingredient

My uncle came over the other day with a carrier bag full of pandan leaves for my mother. He picked these leaves from his garden where his one plant has truly grown in abundance.

I remember being a kid and spending Sundays in my uncle’s coffee shop, where he would make kaya for the week. Kaya literally translates from Malay to mean rich. Like a jam, it is a spread made from coconut milk, eggs, sugar and pandan leaf juice. My sister and I would fight to hold the giant wooden spoon to stir the mixture while my uncle cracked the eggs in.

Pandan leaves emit a superfragrant smell. For this reason it is used to perfume many of my favourite dishes. Added into cooking, the kitchen is rich with the aroma. Used with coconut it enhances the taste and smell of coconut and turns food a light green colour.

Knotted and added to cooking rice with coconut milk, you get nasi lemak, Malaysia’s favourite breakfast. Juiced and marinated with chicken, then used to wrap the chicken, you get Pandan Chicken, a Thai/Malaysian dish.

Pandan as a magic ingredient does not stop at savoury food. In Asia, it is also used in making cakes. I spent this trip in Kuala Lumpur looking to buy some Pandan Layer Cake, a chilled cake, sometimes topped with dessicated coconut. Last week, I found 2 different types of layer cake. The Indonesian variety, a dense cake made of many layers and the one I love, which is chilled and is made up of layers of sponge and pandan flavoured jelly. Another favourite is kuih bangkit, a cookie that is flavoured with pandan and a staple treat during Chinese New Year. I found some being sold in Chinatown the other day and snacked on the fish-shaped cookies, pretending that it was still Chinese New Year.


Pandan leaves are available to buy from the Chinese supermarkets in the UK. I remember seeing it for sale in Pat’s Chung Ying on Leith Walk in Edinburgh. Although available to buy from the Chinese supermarkets, once I head back to London, I am going to miss seeing the many foods made with pandan on menus and in bakeries. Before I leave, I will be clutching on to some leaves and soaking in the wonderful fragrance.

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9 thoughts on “Pandan: A magic ingredient

  1. I love Pandan too.. I’ve tried making pandan nyonya kueh and pandan sponge cake, the latter was not a success at all and i quit making them…

  2. hi i couldnt help but notice the last bit where u said you were heading back to london.. the thing is i’ve been living in london for years, but i havent managed to find it in any chinese supermarket… 😦 can u advise me which one u can find it in?
    thanks! 🙂

    1. New Loon Moon sells a lot of South East Asian foodstuff and I am sure Loong Foong does as well. I’ve definitely seen and bought it, even from the smaller supermarkets. And there is a bakery opposite Rasa Sayang on Macclesfield St that sells Pandan Layer Cake. Yum!

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