Bubur cha cha is a Malaysian dessert made with creamy coconut milk, appetising taros and a colourful mixture of sweet potatoes. This delightful dish is also infused with a distinct, floral pandan aroma. To us, the stimulating mouthfeel from tapioca jelly and sago pearls makes us crave more.
This Malaysian coconut dessert is also called mo mo cha cha or bo bo cha cha. In Malay, bubur means "porridge", whereas "cha cha" means "well".
This sweet broth has its origin in Nyonya cuisine. We've also heard Mum saying that this dessert is related to pengat and has a long history amongst the Hokkien community and Penang Nyonyas. So, there's a theory that the word "cha cha" is rooted in the Hokkien word "che che", meaning abundance. This taro dessert has a few variations derived from different ethnicities and cultures.
Thanks to Mum's recipe and guidance, we've perfected our bubur cha cha gula melaka recipe with easily found and healthy ingredients.
Our traditional homemade recipe will take you to the classic Baba-Nyonya era. So, continue reading to discover how to make bubur cha cha and transport your taste buds to Malaysia from the comfort of your home.
What Is Bubur Cha Cha Made Of?
This Malaysian coconut dessert is made of taro, sweet potatoes (orange and purple), tapioca jelly, sago, pandan leaves and coconut milk.
We recommend using smaller corms with a slightly purple tint when choosing taro. They are generally sweeter than their large, whitish-pale counterparts. Once you cook these, the taros will have a nutty, buttery flavour and a tender texture.
You can cut the taro into thin slices to make it more presentable. Then, chop each piece into smaller 1 cm cubes.
We love using both orange and purple sweet potato for our mo mo cha cha recipe. The orange type has a slightly firm texture and a mild sweet taste, whereas its purple counterpart is much sweeter with a delicate and creamy texture. Also, sweet potatoes taste sugary-sweet with a tinge of earthiness, whereas other tubers like taro taste mildly sweet and have a drier texture.
When we pair orange and purple sweet potatoes, we get a good balance of sweetness and tender mouthfeel. The purple variant also has a high anthocyanin content, a natural colouring that gives the bright purple colour. So, our Chinese tapioca dessert soup will turn purple.
A lot of people will add tapioca jelly which adds a neutral-tasting chew to the dessert. The jelly adds richness and a fun, chewy mouthfeel to this Chinese tapioca dessert soup.
In our opinion, it's optional but you will find a lot of old Malaysian shops will include these in their bubur cha cha.
The jellies are surprisingly simple to make. You mix tapioca flour with boiling water into a chewy dough. You can also add food colouring to make the jelly look more appealing. However, you can remove the colouring if you like a simple, whitish tapioca jelly.
Alternatively, you can use tapioca balls as bubur cha cha jelly substitutes. Tapioca balls are commonly used in sweet desserts like tapioca pudding, ube and coconut pudding, and bubble tea. These small round balls are made from tapioca starch, water, and brown sugar. They also have a sweeter taste with a chewy consistency. If you use this instead, you'll need 3 to 4 tablespoons of tapioca pearls to make bo bo cha cha.
If you're out of tapioca flour, use tapioca flour substitutes like cornstarch or potato starch in our tapioca jelly recipe below. Both substitutes can produce a chewy substitute for bubur cha cha jelly. However, in our own taste test, the cornstarch substitute will add a light sweetness.
Sago pearls can complement your sweet bowl with their soft and gummy texture. They will turn translucent when cooked and are naturally tasteless. With their soft and absorbent properties, sago pearls can absorb the broth's taste and leave a satisfying mouthfeel.
These starchy white balls are popular in Asia, particularly in Malaysian desserts like sago pudding and sago cake. They are also used to make some of our favourite sweet Cantonese dishes like mango sago. The ideal sago size for this dessert is 2 mm. The pearls expand when cooked, so anything larger than 2mm can give you an overwhelming texture.
These aromatic leaves add a distinct fragrance to the overall dessert. While fresh leaves work best, frozen ones work just as well.
We recommend bunching and tying the pandan leaves into a simple knot before adding them to the pot. This is simply to avoid them getting in the way of scooping the rest of the dessert once it's ready.
As for the coconut milk, the standard type works best in producing a creamy, thick broth with a sweet, nutty flavour. You can also use powdered coconut milk if that’s all you can find. Just make sure to dissolve the coconut milk in a bit of warm water before adding to the mo mo cha cha broth.
Avoid using light coconut milk if you want a milky dessert that tastes good when hot and cold. Light coconut milk is usually watered down and much thinner than the regular type. It isn't rich and creamy enough to produce a thick broth.
We will use mashed gula melaka (palm sugar) as a sweetener for our mo mo cha cha recipe. This traditional sweetener offers a sublime caramel-like sweetness and a distinctive coconut undernote. It also makes the taro dessert slightly thick and resembles the traditional recipe.
Alternatively, you can use dark brown sugar or honey. Dark brown sugar will add a burst of caramel-like sweetness to your Malaysian dish. In addition, it will thicken and add a dark brown hue to the broth's colour. Meanwhile, honey will add an aromatic and floral sweetness to the dessert.
If you opt to use dark brown sugar, mix 200g of it with 100 ml of boiling water. Stir until you get a thick and lump-free mixture. Then, combine this sugar mixture with the hot coconut milk broth during cooking. On the other hand, if you use honey, just add two tablespoons after adding the coconut milk and stir until it blends.
Bubur Cha Cha Gula Melaka Recipe
The key traditional ingredient for this sweet broth is gula melaka. Having said that, we understand that it may be difficult to find gula melaka, especially in Western cities. You can opt for dark brown sugar or honey as mentioned above.
Gula melaka is a natural sweetener made from coconut palm sap. Gula melaka adds a caramelly sweetness and a smoky coconut aftertaste to this taro dessert. Palm sugar is also favoured by many, especially when making sago pudding, kuih dadar, cendol, and other amazing Malaysian desserts.
For our bubur cha cha gula melaka recipe, you need 200g of gula melaka. Make sure to mash the sugar into smaller pieces before dissolving it into 100 ml of boiling water. Stir the mixture until you get a thick brown solution. Then, mix this sweetener into the Malaysian dessert after adding the coconut milk and pandan leaves.
Yam is a great additional fibre source. It has a neutral taste and has a smooth, slippery texture. The creamy, tender consistency of cooked yam pairs well with the other chewy ingredients. Furthermore, despite its neutral flavour, yam tends to absorb the sweet broth flavours. Meanwhile, cooked taro has a tender and slightly grainy texture, and cooked sweet potatoes have a slightly wet and soggy-like consistency.
To add yam to our taro dessert recipe, cut 150g of this tuber into 1 cm cubes. Then, steam the cubes for 10 to 15 minutes. Take a fork and test the texture. The fork should easily go through the yam if it's well-cooked. Drain the cooked yam before adding it to the coconut broth alongside the taro and sweet potatoes.
Adding bananas can enhance the taste of this Malaysian coconut dessert with a burst of fruity sweetness. You don't have to cook bananas when you're making bubur cha cha. Just cut one piece of ripe banana into ¼-inch thick slices and add them at the end of cooking.
Black Eyed Peas
The earthy, nutty, and savoury taste of black-eyed peas pairs well with the creamy coconut milk. These peas are soft when cooked and hold their shape well.
You only need ¼ cup of black-eyed peas for our taro dessert recipe. Soak the peas in 1 cup of hot water for 15 minutes. Then, boil them for 20 minutes until they turn tender. Set aside and add these peas to this Malaysian coconut dessert just before serving.
How to Make Tapioca Jelly for Bubur Cha Cha
If you're all about texture, tapioca jelly can be the perfect addition, taking your sweet bowl from good to great.
- First, mix 100g of tapioca starch with 80 ml of boiling water in a bowl. Quickly stir the mixture until you get a slurry and thick blend.
- Then, knead the hot mixture until you get a pale, smooth, pliable dough. You can also sprinkle one tablespoon of tapioca to prevent the dough from sticking to the working board.
- Separate the dough into two portions if you opt for food colouring in our tapioca jelly recipe. Then, add the colourings and knead everything until you get a uniformly coloured dough. Next, roll the dough until you get long strips. Cut them into ½ inch cubes.
- Add 500ml of water to a cooking pot on medium heat and allow it to reach a boil. Then, add the tapioca cubes and cook them for 5 minutes until they float to the surface. You will notice that cooked tapioca jellies have a translucent appearance and chewy texture. Once cooked, transfer and cool everything in a bowl of cold water. Finally, strain to use your jellies.
You can make the dough long before making your sweet potato coconut milk dessert. Keep the dough in an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator. The dough can last in the refrigerator for up to a month. You can also store the dough in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Furthermore, to ensure cooked tapioca jellies last longer, transfer them after cooking into an airtight container. You can store these jellies in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. In the freezer, they can last for 3 to 6 months.
How to Make Bubur Cha Cha
- To make your Malaysian dessert, first prepare your tapioca jelly.
- Then, cut the taro, purple sweet potatoes, and orange sweet potatoes into 1 cm cubes. First, steam the taro chunks for 15 minutes until they are fork-tender. Taro cooks and softens quicker than the other tubers. Therefore, it will get mushy if we boil it with the sweet potatoes. So, separately steaming the taro ensures a soft yet firm texture.
- After that, add dry sago and 500 ml of water into a cooking pot. Cook the sago until it turns translucent. Remove the heat and let the sago pearls simmer in the residual heat for 10 minutes.
- Add the purple and orange sweet potato cubes to 2 litres of boiling water in another pot. Boil the sweet potatoes for 10 to 12 minutes until they turn tender and soft. Then, set it aside to cool. If you prefer a whitish broth, strain the water out of these potatoes using a colander until they're slightly dry.
- Add one can of coconut milk to another pot. Cook the milk over medium heat for 5 minutes before adding three knotted pandan leaves. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix 200g of mashed gula melaka with 100 ml of boiling water. Stir everything until you get a thick brown mixture. Then, pour the gula melaka solution into the heated coconut milk. Continuously stir for 2 minutes to ensure all ingredients are thoroughly combined. You can substitute gula melaka with dark brown sugar or honey. However, if you use honey, just add two tablespoons after adding the coconut milk and stir until it blends completely.
- Finally, add the steamed taro, cooked sweet potatoes, and tapioca jelly to the hot coconut milk broth. Sieve the sago pearls to remove excess water before adding them to the pot. Stir this dessert and let everything simmer for another 3 to 4 minutes until you get a thick, creamy broth with a purple hue. Turn the heat off, remove the pandan leaves, and transfer this sweet potato coconut milk dessert into a bowl before serving.
Serving Hot or Cold
You can serve this sweet potato coconut milk dessert hot. During rainy and cold seasons, we love this as a hot, sweet dessert. It's the perfect remedy for hungry tummies.
If you like it cold, we like to refrigerate this dessert for 2 to 3 hours before serving.
Not Sweet Enough
If our Malaysian dessert didn't turn out sweet enough, you can add more sweetener to the broth. You can make another sweet mixture with 100g of mashed gula melaka or brown sugar and 50 ml of boiling water. If you use honey, one tablespoon is enough to sweeten the broth. However, we would recommend you try to stick to the sweetness level we have here so the other ingredients can shine too.
How to Store
You can store this Malaysian coconut dessert in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Be sure to keep it in an airtight container.
Since bo bo cha cha contains coconut milk, you shouldn't leave it at room temperature for more than a day. The coconut milk can quickly turn sour if left too long outside the refrigerator.
Alternatively, you can freeze this Malaysian coconut dessert for up to a month. Just thaw it and reheat everything until boiled before serving.
Bubur Cha Cha Recipe
- 100 g tapioca starch
- 200 g taro
- 400 g purple sweet potato
- 200 g orange sweet potato
- 200 g gula melaka
- 70 g sago or ½ cup (dry)
- 1 can coconut milk 380 ml
- 3 to 4 leaves pandan leaf (knotted)
- First, make your tapioca jelly. Mix tapioca starch with 80 ml of boiling water. Stir everything quickly until you get a thick, pliable dough. Knead and roll into ½ inch cubes. Boil the jelly cubes in 500ml until they float. Transfer to a bowl of cold water and set aside. Drain the jellies before use.
- Cut taro and sweet potatoes into 1 cm cubes. Steam the taro cubes for about 15 minutes until it becomes fork-tender. Then, set aside for later.
- Boil sago in 500ml of water for 10 minutes until they turn translucent. Then, turn the heat off and let them simmer with residual heat for 10 minutes.
- Then, add the sweet potato cubes to a pot with 2 litres of water. Boil everything for 10 to 12 mins. Then, set aside to cool down.
- Cook a can of coconut milk over medium heat in another pot for 5 min. Add three knotted pandan leaves. Meanwhile, mix gula melaka with 100 ml of boiling water and stir to get a thick brown mixture. Afterwards, add the gula melaka mixture to the heated coconut milk and stir until fully combined.
- Finally, add the steamed taro, sweet potatoes, tapioca jelly, and sago. Ensure that you sieve the sago pearls beforehand to remove excess water. Stir well and let everything simmer for another 3 to 4 minutes. Afterwards, transfer your Malaysian dessert into a bowl and serve.
- Due to the natural colour of the purple sweet potato, you will get a purple broth with our easy bo bo cha cha recipe. Alternatively, you can separately boil and strain the sweet potatoes in a different pot before mixing in the final serving pot to get a whitish broth.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
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