Saturday, January 9, 2010

Vietnamese-Style Tri-Color Dessert (Nab Vam)

I'm not sure what they call this dessert in Vietnamese (update: It's called Che Ba Mau). Whenever I go to the Vietnamese restaurants, I always ask for "tri-color" and they know what I mean. I always wondered how the restaurants manage to make the sugar syrup so sweet and creamy without that burned sugar taste that I usually taste with the sugar and water mix I make at home. I read somewhere on a forum to boil condensed milk and coconut milk. I tried that earlier this week and it worked the very first time that I tried it. Too bad I didn't measure it the first time because I had to measure it a couple of times to get the right consistency again. The ingredients in this dessert can vary from person to person depending on what you like. The key ingredient is the sugar syrup. If you get that right, then you can mix and add anything you like. I usually just make mine with the agar agar jello and tapioca balls. Sometimes I like to add the other store bought items such as jackfruit and coconut gel. This time I decided to add sweetened beans to make it more similar to the Vietnamese dessert.

Serves 4

1 can 14 fl oz coconut milk, 3/4 can of sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand)
1 tbsp of agar agar powder, 2 cups of water, green food coloring
1/2 cup of tapioca pearls
Fruit Mix (beans, coconut gel, jackfruit)

1. Boil about two cups of water into small pot. Add agar agar powder to boiling water and stir to mix well. Add food coloring at this time if you would like. I like to make mine green. Once mixed well (about 2 minutes), pour into a deep container and keep cool in fridge until the mixture turns into a firm, jello-like consistency. Keep in mind, however, that this will be firmer than the jello that you're used to seeing. I didn't really time this, but after 2 hours in the fridge (when I did check) the agar agar was nicely firm. It may take a shorter time than this.

2. Bring a pot of water to boil on high heat, then add the tapioca pearls. Reduce heat to medium and boil for about 15-20 minutes. The pearls are ready once they turn transparent. You can also sample a few to see if they are ready. Make sure you take a small spoonful and pour it into cold water before tasting. The pearls are ready when they are soft. Once ready, drain the pearls and pour immediately into a container of cold water. Cover the container and store in fridge until ready to serve. Note: The tapioca pearls will absorb a lof of the water and will become larger. You may want to add more water just so the pearls do not stick together, but it is not a huge problem if they do stick as you will be adding the sugar syrup to the dessert.

3. To make the sugar syrup, mix the coconut milk and condensed milk into saucepan and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and stir constantly for about 5 minutes or until mixture is smooth and mixed well. Pour into a container and cool in fridge until ready to serve. Note: The first time I tried this, I tried with Eagle Brand regular condensed milk (not the non-fat one as pictured) and that one seems to be sweeter. I also tried the Longevity brand from the Asian stores and that one I do not recommend as it had a funny taste to it. If this syrup is to thick or sweet for you, you can dilute it with a little water. I already get that from the ice, but it's up to you.

4. Once the agar agar is firm and ready, it's time to slice them into pieces.

5. Assemble fruit mix (drained), jackfruit (sliced and drained), agar agar, and the tapioca pearls (drained) into a dessert cup. Pour sugar syrup on top of the mixture and top with ice to make this a cold dessert.


  1. hey thanks for the tip with the mixing condensed milk and coconut because everytime i try to make sugar it always smell like burn sugar and not sweet enough even though i used almost a whole bag of sugar. hahah

  2. You're welcome. I didn't put this on the recipe, but if it's too sweet or creamy for some, you can always add a little water to the syrup to dilute it. I just made mine w/o adding any water because the ice that I put in later on helped dilute it a little.

  3. how do you make the string/long nab vam?

  4. Gelia, I'll try to do a post on it one of these days since it's popular with nab vam.

  5. this looks delicious!! I have the same request as Gelia so I hope you'll have one done soon! Thanks!

  6. For the coconut milk, did you use the cooking kind or the desert kind?

    1. The desert kind the other one have a thicker milk