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Recipe Development: Suman

This week Chef Rex takes you through his Suman dish - a steamed rice cake wrapped in banana leaves. It's simple by nature with a few key ingredients bringing the subtle, delicate aromas and flavours that make this dish a Filipino delicacy. Belonging to the kakanin family of sweet rice dishes, Suman is a symbol for close bonds due to its sticky texture and many Filipinos have their own memories of buying them from local hawkers or preparing them alongside their grandmother.

Development Stages

Key Components:

Malakit (glutinous rice in tagalog) - this sticky rice has a gummier, chewier texture than long grain rice helping the dish to keep its shape and also makes it easier for tearing off pieces when eating the traditional Filipino way which is by hand.

Sugar topping - Rex uses brown sugar to top his Suman which adds a hint of deep molasses or toffee flavour. The granules add a coarser texture and if you add them whilst the suman is still warm some of the sugar caramelises adding even more flavour to the dish.

Banana leaf - the most ancient form of packaging which Rex heats to make more pliable and to stimulate the enzymes and draws the oil from the banana leaf.  If you don't do this process, the leaf will crack which will break your parcel and the rice filling could spill out. There are also natural compounds in the leaf that inhibit spoilage and bacterial growth which makes it useful for serving the Suman on as plateware. The leaf also helps to add flavour and aroma to the rice cake - a sort of green tea scent.


  1. Suman - Discover this iconic recipe that has huge amounts of adaptations throughout the Philippines and is a staple in the kakanin dish family.
  2. Banana leaf - Master the techniques to use and prepare banana leaves. You will toast it over an open flame to make it easy to work with and then create a natural string to tie your suman.
  3. Preservation techniques - Learn how this ancient recipe used both sugar and banana leaf to preserve this sweet dish from the Philippines.

Make It Your Own:

  • Toppings - Rex uses brown sugar but you can have fun experimenting. Other sweet toppings - coconut syrup, caramel syrup (with either caster or brown sugar) or you can top with latik (the caramelised coconut milk topping you'll make with Mark's leche flan) and for texture you could try different candied nuts or desiccated coconut. For a more sour option to balance the sweet, you could try different sour fruits - diced mango, berries or passionfruit are all delicious options.
  • Fillings - the glutinous, sticky rice is the main component of this dish but feel free to try different varieties for example, a purple sticky rice will add some visual intrigue to your dish with its striking colour. You can perfume your rice with different essences such as, pandan or vanilla, you can also try introducing bitter flavours that balance the sweetness such as coffee or chocolate. Another fun route to go down, is experimenting with different warming spices that complement coconut well.
  • Shaping & Folding Techniques - try different shapes like a square, pyramid, cones or a more circular shape by playing around with different folds or if you're feeling more pro, you can have a go at more complex geometric patterns. If you don't want to do much folding, another option is you could sandwich your rice mix in between two banana leaves before serving. We'd love to see your creations on the community forum!
  • Wrapping materials - this recipes uses banana leaf but traditionally, a variety of indigenous materials have been used to make the wrapping for Suman and other similar dishes such as, palm and bamboo leaves as well as coconut shells.

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Rex De Guzman
Filipino cuisine for a long time has been misunderstood and underrepresented so I'm working to bring attention to it.