Comfort food for many Filipinos, suman is an inexpensive snack traditionally sold in markets stalls and on the street by hawkers.
“Sticky rice cake shaped like a small log, wrapped in banana leaves, coconut fronds or palm leaves, and steamed or boiled” is the most descriptive translation I can manage for suman. To shorten the description to “rice cake” would cause a lot of confusion because “rice cake” encompasses more than suman in this country.
There are so many varieties of suman in the Philippines, some associated with particular regions. When using uncooked rice, often soaked for several hours in water, suman is cooked submerged in water or coconut milk. When using cooked rice, the wrapped suman is steamed.
Even the accompaniment for suman varies. The most common is a mixture of grated fresh coconut and sugar. Some suman varieties are served with a dipping sauce of coconut jam or chocolate.
My suman recipe uses sticky rice that has been cooked in coconut milk. The cooled rice is double wrapped in wilted banana leaves then steamed for about 45 minutes.
If you want to add a little variety to modify and enhance both the appearance and flavor of homemade suman, here are two suggestions.
Add pieces of chocolate to the rice before wrapping. The chocolate melts during steaming and binds with the rice creating a marbled look. With every piece of suman you put in your mouth, you get gooey chocolate. What more can you ask for, right?
If you’re not a fan of chocolate but you love fruits, you can add chopped fruit to the rice. Ripe mangoes make a lovely addition. Even canned peaches will do.
The plain and most basic recipe is given below, followed by instructions on how to make the chocolate-flavored suman and suman with chopped fruits that you see in the photos above.
- Rinse the rice several times, drain, place in a bowl and cover with water. Cover the bowl and keep in the fridge for at least six hours.
- Drain the rice. Cook in coconut milk with the salt (I used a rice cooker and it did the job wonderfully).
- Prepare the banana leaves by trimming and wilting (see illustration).
- Cut the banana leaves so that you have 8 to 10 pieces that are about 8"x8" square and another set of 8 to 10 pieces that are about 12"x12" square.
- Place an 8"x8" piece of banana leaf on top of a 12"x12" piece. Place two to three tablespoonfuls of cooked rice at the center.
- Wrap the rice with the smaller piece of banana leaf, as tightly as you can, and folding the sides neatly. Use the larger piece of banana leaf to wrap the parcel. The double wrapping seals the rice well and serves as an insurance that in case the first wrapping tears, there is another layer to protect the precious rice inside. Repeat until all the rice has been wrapped.
- Stack the parcels, seam side down, in a steamer basket. Steam over boiling water for about 45 minutes.
- Cool the suman for about 15 minutes before unwrapping to give it a chance to firm up. Top with grated fresh coconut and sugar, and enjoy!
Chocolate sumanPlace about two tablespoonfuls of the cooked rice on a piece of banana leaf, add a tablespoon of chopped chocolate (I used dark chocolate), wrap and steam following the same procedure for the basic suman recipe.
Fruity sumanAgain, place about two tablespoonfuls of the cooked rice on a piece of banana leaf, add a tablespoon of chopped fruit, wrap and steam following the same procedure for the basic suman recipe. Updated from a recipe originally published in October 18, 2010.
If you cooked this dish (or made this drink) and you want to share your masterpiece, please use your own photos and write the cooking steps in your own words.