Not that mom never gave us anything sweet - she would come back from the market with the most delicious sweet peanut soup in the world, and red bean buns, where red beans are pounded to a mush, sweetened with sugar, stuffed into a bun and steamed to perfect softness. I would wait eagerly for her to make the lump of black grass jelly (we call it cincau) she bought from the market into a delicious drink that I now make for my kids. On the days she could get calamansi limes, she would make calamansi juice. When soursop (durian belanda) is in season, the sweet and sourish drink would cool us down on hot days. Almost every other day, there would be barley water, sweet potato soup or green bean soup boiling on the stove, meant to cool our little bodies from heatiness. During the Winter Solstice, we ate round glutinous balls coated with either a green bean paste or peanut powder. When we went out on the weekends, we would make a beeline for the local cendol stall at the old wet market in Sibu, which sadly, has now been demolished and I don't know where the cendol uncle went. We also went for bubur cha cha in Rejang Park, and got our coconut drink fix from the lady selling treats outside Cathay cinema.
So you see, it wasn't that we didn't have dessert, it just didn't necessarily come after a meal. Our dessert did not have a definition to conform to. We could have it whenever the need arises. I say need, because Chinese desserts are not just eaten for the sake of eating them. Every ingredient has a purpose, whether to cool down the body or to provide a little heat. Usually it's the former. It's all about balancing the Yin and Yang.
This is a simple sweet potato soup that takes very little time to prepare. Skin and cube 5 medium-sized (about the size of your fist) sweet potatoes and add to a about 1 litre of water. Add a knot of pandanus leaves to the water for added fragrance. You can omit this if you cannot find the leaves. Bring to boil and let it boil for 25 minutes or until sweet potato is soft. If a fork can go in easily, it's soft enough. Add sago pearls and boil for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add rock sugar to taste. Serve hot or cold (chill it in the fridge for a few hours.)
I love making this for the kids as it is cooling and sweet potato is packed with nutrients and natural sweetness. If they are sweet enough, I don't even have to add any sugar. Enjoy!