Pandan Please

Memories of culinary school blur into a long adventure of flour and oxiclean, but there are also the mind-blowing moments, so outstanding that they leave a permanent imprint on your entire approach to food.  When I was handed Pandan, my world would never be the same.   

Chef called it the, “vanilla bean of Asia,” and revealed a vacuum-sealed package of tall bright, green leaves.   I was instructed to chiffonade the leaves and infuse them into a large stockpot of steaming milk, with which we would use to make a simple, sweetened pandan milk with tapioca pearls.

 

Subtly floral and slightly grassy, the aroma instantly appealed to me.   Appealed is an understatement.  Not only could I hardly contain myself from sticking my entire face in the pot to breathe in its sweet steam, but I was ready to abandon vanilla beans faster than you can say “hello kitty.”   I was ready to start a pandan revolution. 

According to the Food Lover’s Companion, Pandan, also known as “screwpine,” is most often used to flavor rice dishes and puddings in Southeast Asia.   So, when I first starting planning the trip to Singapore, Pandan was high up on my list of foods to explore.

Sure enough, the bakeries here in Singapore are full of little green-colored pastries, all flavored with pandan.  While green might not be every westerner’s color preference for pastry, this former Ohioan has been stalking every Singaporean bakeshop for the stuff. 

Pandan chiffon cake can be found in most all of the bakeries.  While the majority come in familiar angel food cake-like, ring shapes, varieties in the more cosmopolitan areas of town surprise diners with elegant and imaginative presentations. Even the fancy, Raffles Hotel, known for creating the signature “Singapore Sling,” cocktail, carries several versions of pandan cake.  The Raffles, ranking as the apex of style and luxury here in Singapore, carries a variety that takes first-place with a towering with fifteen layers.  Rectangular in shape, with delicately thin layers, the simple creativity of each geometrically appealing slice, takes the cake.…if you will. 

 

My fascination with pandan does not just come with its exquisite flavor.  Here in Singapore, practically every grocery store carries fresh pandan leaves, yet in the United States its name is barely recognized.  So many Asian dishes and ingredients have reached into the west and gained popularity, so it is intriguing how certain flavors travel and others do not.  Why has this prevalent food remained so domestically bound?  

The newness of the pandan flavor to my own palate, sparks my imagination and I’ve already got some pandan milk steeping the refrigerator.   Pandan ice cream and crème brulée are only the beginning…

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Pandan Please

  1. Oh man, you found it! I’m super excited! I’ve been hunting all around the Asian markets for that stuff. The only thing I can find is canned extract which I purchased and found out it was a terrible version of the real stuff with lots of food coloring added – I was desperate here…

    Enjoy your adventure!

    • Marissa Sertich: Dessertation

      I think they might use the canned stuff often here, just because some of the pandan cakes are bright green and stronger in flavor than others. ALSO, I found this “egg jelly,” they make here with egg, sugar, coconut and pandan. I need to figure out how to get my hands on how to actually make some of these things while I’m here!

  2. Maureen Brady Johnson

    This is so exciting. Your photos are great and your description of your love of Pandan is so funny!!!!! Keep the blogs coming. I am lovin’ it all.
    Maureen

  3. You have me utterly intrigued! I will definitely be on the lookout.

    • Marissa Sertich: Dessertation

      Check the Asian markets! Its tall and leafy and only has a slight floral smell before its cooked, so its a little bit difficult to identify if you’ve never seen it before. Its much for grassy smelling before its cooked. They sometimes call it screwpine here as well.

  4. Gotta admit that when I first glanced at your post title I thought I read “Panda.” I’m glad you’re not eating panda. Pandan sounds much better! 🙂

  5. sorellaaglio

    I love this. We should cook with this sometime together!

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