Paraiso: Guinataang Malagkit at Pandan Sago

Anything tropical, exotic and sweet is sure to win any non-Asian (read: Caucasian) heart. Anything that reminds them of the sun, swaying palm trees and warm breezes guarantees a contented smile and possibly a burp or two.

When a Polish friend from church raved over my last-minute guinataang munggo na pula (glutinous rice and red mung beans in coconut milk), made from scratch using coconut cream, a cup of glutinous rice, red mung beans and sugar provided by another girl friend for Sunday dessert many weeks past, she never stopped requesting me that I make her another one; she specifically requested for her “Paradise” dessert for our final “international Sunday girls’ lunch”.

Fine. But I did not want to do the one with red mung beans…it felt like repeating myself, thus boring.

uncooked pandan sago pearls

Enter pandan sago. Which I found in a Thai grocery shop (managed by…a Filipina!) while hunting for cheap coconut cream. Much to my consternation, sago pearls are sold uncooked in 1-kg bags (but of course!) which made me scratch my head a bit since I had no idea how to cook sago.

But then again, I’d go on a cooking adventure if only to make a friend happy to have her spoonful of paraiso before the holidays.


  • 2 cups uncooked glutinous rice
  • 1 cup uncooked pandan sago pearls
  • 4 Tbsp sugar (or to taste)
  • 500 mL tetra-pack coconut cream


  • Heat water in a Dutch oven or pot. As soon as the water comes to a rolling boil, add the uncooked sago pearls and stir constantly. After 10 minutes (or until the pearls become completely translucent), immediately remove pot from the stove, drain the pearls through a fine sieve, rinse with ice-cold water before soaking them in a bowl of cold water.
  • Pour coconut cream in a non-stick pot, then add the uncooked glutinous rice. Heat the contents, with constant stirring, until the rice is cooked. If the cream thickens too soon, add half-a-cupful of cold water into the mixture and stir evenly.
  • Add the cooked pandan sago and stir. Add sugar and stir until crystals are fully dissolved.
  • Ladle the contents into bowls, ramekins or any deep dish (or what-have-you). Leave to cool to room temperature before serving (or before chilling in the refrigerator).

Results and Discussion
Too much! This dessert is too easy to make, it’s too easy to make too much! The 2:1 ratio of glutinous rice and sago were enough for 14 persons (the girls, plus a few from the Residentie Steenberg, and an odd fellow or two from ACL). Take note that the proper serving portion for guinataang malagkit is NOT (and should not be) a brimming bowlful—coconut milk/cream is rich, made heavier by starchy, glutinous rice. I myself love this dessert, but I cannot take more than a parfait-cup serving of it.

Coconut milk or cream? You can use either. Coconut cream (in Filipino: kakang gata) is really thick coconut milk from the first pressing of shredded coconut meat—therefore having a higher fat content than coconut milk, which comes from the subsequent pressings (and mixed with a proportion of water). Coconut cream thickens faster, so you need to be extra watchful, with a cupful of water ready to thin out the mixture when the rice is still uncooked. Glutinous rice absorbs a LOT of water!

coconut cream stirred, not shaken

Cooking sago. Ah, this is the adventurous part of my experience. Before tackling the pack of uncooked sago, I had to take a peek in the Internet for tips and tricks in cooking sago pearls. A lot of Asian foodbloggers agree that sago should be cooked in boiling water for 10 minutes flat (unless you want a bland, icky mush fit for Victorian, British desserts), then rinsed with cold water to remove the excess starch. With my experience, it does take 10 minutes before seeing the white uncooked cores dissolve into translucency. With pandan sago, the end-result looks like tiny, gleaming jade balls.

cooked sago pearls :)

Wrapping up
All I can say is that I am still amazed and happy to see the smiling, blissful faces of those who ate this dessert, as if they truly had a taste of paradise at that instance. It felt like they loved a part of my home, of where I came from…and this made me proud.

tasting paradise

Although, there’s a caveat emptor for this Filipino dessert: Guinataang malagkit is delicious, but nakaka-umay after a while.

Happy Sunday!

The fastest way to warm up : Bicol Express

For over a month now, the weather has shifted back and forth between cold and really cold. The time of grilling and cold cuts is over. Now is the season for stews and casseroles. Heavy, warm, caloric…yum!

Since we’re warming up here (heh), I’m going to post one of my favorite Filipino spicy stews: Bicol Express.

It’s quite similar to the Thai curries because it’s made with coconut milk and chili peppers. But that’s where the similarity ends. The Filipino version is simpler, with visibly less ingredients but with the same amount of flavor.

Normally Bicol Express is made with 12 green chili peppers, but to buy so much can be a little pricey. So instead, I used a package of mixed chili peppers made of 3 green and 2 red pieces.

The red chili peppers are a lot spicier than the green variety, which I personally liked. Your tolerance may vary of course. But if you use less chili peppers, I’ll probably call you a wuss.

Bicol Express (serves 2-3)

  • 250 g pork belly
  • 10 – 12 pcs green chili peppers or 3 green + 2 red chili peppers
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 onion diced
  • 3 tomatoes diced
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger julienned
  • 1 1/2 cup thick coconut cream
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro or coriander
  • 1 Tbsp chopped onion leaves or chives
  • Fish sauce to taste

1 Dice the pork.

2 Cut off ends of the peppers and remove the seeds. Soak in salted water for 10 mins. Drain and cut into small pieces.

3 Heat cooking oil on skillet and cook pork until golden brown.

4 Add garlic, ginger, onion, tomato, and drained pepper.

5 Add cilantro and onion leaves.

6 Pour half cup of water and simmer for 15 mins.

7 At medium heat, pour coconut cream, cook uncovered, stirring occasionally. Adjust taste with fish sauce.

8 Simmer until there is only enough liquid to coat the solids in the mixture.

9 Serve.


Chop instead of mincing. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, Julia Child would probably lecture you on the importance of having one. I don’t have one. Neither do I have a garlic press. So instead of finely mincing the garlic, I just chopped them like a crazy woman. I chopped them up so fine the tiny pieces got stuck between my fingers, endearing me to my colleagues the next day.

Salt the pork before frying. It might be a good idea to rub salt on the pork before dicing and frying them. This makes sure that the meat won’t be bland after cooking.

Reduce water when using coconut milk. If you are using coconut milk instead of cream, add less water before simmering. I don’t necessarily measure the exact amount but if I were to guesstimate, I would use a little less than 1/4 cup. This is so that reducing the liquid wouldn’t take so long.

If you are not so keen about eating pork, you can use chicken or turkey breast instead. I have never prepared a vegetarian version of this, so if there’s anyone willing to try using tofu instead of meat, let me know how it turns out.

It wouldn’t be as tasty, but if you are too lazy to julienne the ginger, you can replace it with 1 tsp of powdered ginger. You can adjust the amount depending to your taste.

As with any South East Asian curry, or pretty much any South East Asian main dish, you MUST eat this with warm rice.