From Sri Lanka to Samoa, we discover how different cultures use this tropical fruit, and find some cracking good recipes along the way.
1 May 2015 - 10:49 AM  UPDATED 2 May 2022 - 4:00 PM

The fruit of the coconut palm is used in various forms in cuisines around the world - its fresh meat is found in Thai desserts, the dried, shredded flesh is added to Denmark's dream cake, coconut water is used to braise Vietnamese pork ribs, and coconut milk is added to a silky Sri Lankan custard.

 

Myanmar
Mohinga (fish noodle soup) may be the national dish in Myanmar but the comforting ohn-no khaut swe is just as loved. Its name, translating to 'coconut milk noodles', points out its decidedly coconut flavour. The key to this simple dish is in the toppings and condiments, which are added according to personal preference for additional flavour, spice and texture.

Coconut milk noodles (ohn-no khaut swe)

 

Vietnam
Caramel flavours and pork are a favourite combination in Vietnam and these caramelised pork spare ribs continue in the tradition.. As is signature to Vietnamese fare, the dish is garnished with fresh herbs and chillies, which cut through any richness.

Caramelised pork ribs

 

Denmark
Meaning 'dream cake' in Danish, this caramelised coconut sponge makes loyal followers out of anyone who steals a bite. Believed to have originated in Brovst in the northern region of Nordjylland, this now-favourite teatime treat is a relative newcomer, making its first appearance in the latter half of the 20th century.

Drømmekage (dream cake)

 

Samoa
Coconut palms line the sandy shores of Samoa, and coconuts are used to make one of the country's favourite sweets, fa'ausi. It consists of a creamy caramel made with coconut milk, the sugar traditionally caramelised over hot rocks. This mixture is then poured over cubes of baked taro or fa'apapa, rock-hard coconut bread, which hold their shape when soaked with caramel. These days, with the addition of baking powder, the fa'apapa is often much lighter, as in this version adorned with coconut. flakes.

Fa’ausi (coconut caramel bread)

 

Thailand
The subtly sweet water and soft, slightly chewy meat of the young coconut is a prized ingredient in Thai sweets. This pie creation from Chiang Rai's Charin Garden Resort, renowned for its fusion dessert pies, blends the best of Thai flavours with an American dessert classic, the coconut cream pie. Here, young coconut water infuses the custard filling, while the flesh is stirred in for texture. The result? An elegant dessert with a billowy meringue topping.

Coconut meringue pie

 

Sri Lanka
From French crème caramel to Filipino leche flan, steamed caramel custards can be found around the globe. Sri Lanka's version, watalappan, uses coconut milk, a ubiquitous ingredient on this coconut palm-fringed tropical island. This rich, silky dessert, thought to have Malay origins and particularly favoured by Sri Lanka's Muslim community, is embellished with roasted cashews for a counterpoint of crunch.

Watalappan

 

Photography Ben Dearnley. Food preparation Kirsten Jenkins. Styling Justine Poole.

As seen in Feast magazine, October 2014, Issue 36.