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Kyawk kyaw (pronounced chhow chhow) - Burmese coconut jelly pudding

Kyawk kyaw, or Burmese coconut jelly, is a simple and beautiful vegan as well as gluten-free dessert made with coconut milk and Agar-Agar.

For most of my childhood, I listened to my Nana Flora's (grandmother) stories about her life in Burma. My maternal family, although ethnically Indian, came from Burma and migrated back to India in the late 1950s.

In the summer, my Nana whipped up this jelly dessert from freshly squeezed coconut milk, reminiscing about her time back in Rangoon. After my grandmother's death, my mother took over the role of reminiscent storyteller, though not quite as enthusiastically as my Nana. Not only does the dessert captivate with its delicate, lightly sweetened coconut flavor, but it's also one of the most eye-catching desserts I've ever seen. As it cooled, the jelly separated into two distinct layers, an opaque coconut layer and a translucent Agar-Agar layer.

After my mom took over the cooking baton from Nana, she delighted us with her Kyawk kyaw, which has a firm texture in terms of consistency, but at the same time soft texture that you can bite into, almost like a boiled egg.

Kyawk kyaw, is made from coconut milk and Agar-Agar. The beauty of it is that when it sets, the dessert separates into two layers. A pure white coconut layer and the transparent water layer.

This wobbly dessert has a nice coconut flavor, but it's not powerful, it's mild and comforting. More like "eating" coconut water.

What actually ist Agar-Agar ?

As you would already know, gelatin is derived from animal skin and bones. If you prefer to do without it, then Agar-Agar is just the right gelling agent for you. Extracted from red algae, it is the vegan substitute for gelatin.

Agar-Agar was discovered rather accidentally in Japan in the 1600s by an innkeeper, Mino Tarozaemon, who was serving very difficult-to-make seaweed jelly noodles to some special guests. To prepare this dish, the seaweed had to be carefully dried and cooked for several days. It was a dish reserved only for the rich. But unfortunately, that night there were many leftovers and he had to throw them away, understandably, since there were no refrigerators at that time. But when he woke up the next morning, he saw that the jelly pasta had dried up overnight in the snow into a papery substance. From this he developed "kanten," our Agar-Agar of today.

Since its discovery, Agar-Agar has been used in Asia mainly to make desserts, but has also found use as a vegan gelling agent and thickener in savory dishes.

Aside from its culinary uses, it is also used in laboratories as a culture medium.

Many people have trouble getting Agar-Agar to set. This is because the ratio is not correct. The agar-agar liquid ratio must be correct, and the Agar-Agar must dissolve completely over heat for it to work.

Agar-Agar in comparison to Gelatine!

Although gelatin has a shakier texture and Agar-Agar jellies are firmer and have a "bite," I recently discovered that Agar-Agar can also be "trained," so to speak, to mimic the shaky texture by varying the amounts used to set the liquid.

Agar-Agar, unlike gelatin, is solid at room temperature and holds its shape even on warm days. So if you want to go to a barbecue and bring a dessert, your best choice would be a dessert made with Agar-Agar.

How much Agar-Agar to use?

1 teaspoon of Agar-Agar powder = 1 tablespoon of Agar-Agar flakes = 1/3 cup of Agar-Agar strands (cut into 2.5cm pieces) will solidify 350 ml (1 1/3 cup) of liquid into a solid jelly.

Use less Agar-Agar for a softer jelly or thicker fruit puree.

How to use Agar-Agar?

If you're using the strands/flakes, soak them in room temperature water for 10 minutes to soften, then bring to a boil, stirring until completely dissolved. Add color, flavor, coconut milk, or fruit puree depending on the recipe. This way you'll know when the Agar-Agar has completely dissolved. If there are still granular Agar-Agar pieces floating on top or sticking to the bottom of the pan, the jelly will not set properly.

If you are using powder, mix all ingredients together with the Agar-Agar and let it sit for 5 minutes. Never mix Agar-Agar powder with warm/hot water as it will clump and not dissolve. Therefore, always stir into room temperature liquid and then bring to a boil, making sure the Agar-Agar has completely dissolved. Pour into ramekins and allow to set..

Although Agar-Agar will set at room temperature, it is best served cold. Let it set at room temperature and then place in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving cold..

Expert tips from my Nana Flora!

Here are a few tips to make sure your kyawk kyaw, turns out right the first time:

  • Once the Agar-Agar has completely dissolved, add the coconut milk and boil for a minute. This will separate the milk solids and coconut oil from the water, ensuring that the two liquids separate.

  • Let it simmer for a few minutes to further cook the solids in the coconut milk.

  • You can use canned coconut milk or freshly squeezed coconut milk. Be sure to extract coconut milk from freshly grated coconut without adding too much water. You want to get a concentrated form of coconut milk. I tried it with frozen coconut, but it just didn't work as well. I had to add a lot of water to extract the milk, and the layers didn't quite separate.

If you want to recapture the fun of your childhood Jell-O, you can make your kyawk kyaw, easily in silicone molds, or do it old-school style and just use cookie cutters. And while I didn't use any extracts or flavors, since it's the most traditional flavor for this dessert, feel free to play around with different extracts and flavors.


  • 2 ½ cups water (588 ml)

  • 2 teaspoons Agar-Agar powder

  • ¼ cup sugar (60 g)

  • 1 cup coconut milk (canned or freshly squeezed - 253 ml)

  • a pinch of salt


Place water, Agar-Agar, sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring regularly. Make sure that the Agar-Agar and sugar have completely dissolved.

Add the coconut milk, stir well and simmer over medium heat for one minute. Stir occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Once the mixture rises, reduce the heat and simmer for another 2 minutes. When you take a spoonful, you should see the solids of the coconut milk come off.

Remove from heat and pour into a serving bowl.

Allow to cool completely at room temperature and set.

Once set, place in the refrigerator for about 2 hours. Before serving, use a butter knife to first cut long strips about 3cm wide. Then cut pieces just as wide diagonally to form individual diamonds.

Serve cold and enjoy.


  • If using Agar-Agar flakes/strands, hydrate them before heat can dissolve them. Simply soak for 10-20 minutes before cooking.

  • Pour into a bowl and allow to set at room temperature. This is important because if you store it in the refrigerator before it sets, the gelling process will speed up and the jelly may set before the layers have had time to separate.

I look forward to hearing from you...

...if you like my blog, my recipes inspire you and your curiosity for Indian cuisine has been piqued.

Feel free to give me feedback if you would like to share your cooking accomplishments or have a suggestion for improvement. I appreciate any kind feedback. Whether via the comment function, email, Facebook or Instagram (best tagged with #heutemalindisch and @heutemalindisch, then your cooking success can also inspire others).



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