Edible against all odds: Palauan seboseb

Here we are, folks: Palau, our last Pacific Island! It’s been a long, sometimes tedious, often coconut-flavoured journey, but we’ve made it to the end. Our next culinary steps will take us back into Asia, and we’re looking forward to the new tastes we’ll find there.

But before moving forward, we must first look back, to the Palauan seboseb Miranda made the other day. Unlike most of our other island recipes, seboseb contains no coconut, no meat and no vegetables. It’s also one of the rare desserts traditional to this part of the world. It was nearly impossible to find a traditional Palauan recipe, and the process involved Miranda spending a lot of time on the sofa with an iPad and a blanket while Ash continued trying to beautify our kitchen: hard work for all involved. The fact that Afghanistan’s national dish is called ‘qabili palau’ didn’t help the search either. Steering well clear of any mention of fruit bat soup and trying to avoid too much coconut, Miranda eventually found the seboseb recipe on a website all about Palau. Ostensibly some sort of milk jelly, it didn’t look all that appetising (see scary-looking purple substance below), and didn’t sound all that appetising (see ingredients below) but being pretty much the only recipe we had, it was worth a try. It shouldn’t have worked, but somehow it did…

596 Website seboseb

Seboseb

Ingredients
1 cup water
1/2 cup corn starch/cornflour
1 cup milk
2 tbsp sugar (the original recipe said 4-5, but we’re not insane)
Chopped fruit (optional) (we used strawberries)

A note on corn starch/cornflour: Apparently it’s only the UK where these two terms refer to the same ingredient. If you’re anywhere else in the world, you want corn starch.

Method
1. Add the water to a small saucepan and bring to the boil.
So far, so good.
2. Once the water is boiling, add the cornflour and stir until completely dissolved.
This is where things start to fall apart, because cornflour doesn’t dissolve. You try to use a whisk to whip it into any sort of submission, but at this point your whisk is probably better used as a makeshift percussion instrument tapped against your thigh to accompany Michael Jackson’s ‘They Don’t Care About Us,’ which has just started playing on your ‘Throwback Thursday’ Spotify playlist. Despite your best efforts, the contents of your pan turn into a lumpy sort of glue.
3. Now, add the sugar, milk and fruit.
The contents of your pan are now a lumpy sort of glue surrounded by a pale pink (if using strawberries) liquid. You text your husband something along the lines of ‘Dessert might be an utter disaster.’ It looks unsalvageable, or at the very least doesn’t resemble a jelly in the slightest.
4. Continue to stir until the soup becomes denser and stickier. Once you have achieved this consistency, the dessert is done.
In for a penny, in for a pound,’ you think, and continue to poke the gluey liquid with the whisk, though it all feels futile… But wait… It’s slowly starting to come together. Not the glossy, smooth liquid in the picture on the website, perhaps, but there’s no denying that everything is starting to combine. You cautiously sneak a taste. It’s not completely awful. You text your husband again: ‘I’ve partially saved it…’
5. Spoon into jelly moulds (or don’t, because it’s a pain to get it out again) and leave to set before serving on its own, or with some extra chopped fruit and/or cream.
Fills 4 small moulds

597a Seboseb - water and cornflour compressed

598a Seboseb - added milk etc compressed

599a Cooking seboseb compressed

600a Seboseb in moulds compressed

601a Seboseb compressed

602a Seboseb compressed

So, how did this combination of ingredients that was destined to fail end up in any way edible? Well, it’s all in the texture. As mentioned above, the picture on the website showed what looked to be a smooth, almost custard-like dessert. We didn’t get that, because that’s not what cornflour does, and to have created a lump-free pudding would have defied the laws of physics. What we got instead was a lumpy, set, milky jelly, which sounds revolting, but by some miracle actually ended up tasting (and feeling) like rice pudding. The strawberries had pretty much dissolved during the furious whisking, giving it a flavour of strawberry jam. In trying to create a tropical dessert, therefore, we ended up with a version of a dish served in school dinner halls all over Britain. More wondrous is the fact that we actually enjoyed it. Isn’t food incredible?!

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3 thoughts on “Edible against all odds: Palauan seboseb

  1. Pingback: Back to Asia: Macanese minchi | Good Food on Bad Plates

  2. Hi, i grew up eating seboseb in Palau. Next time try adding the corn starch with the cold water and stir to dissolve before boiling the water and you will get the right texture.

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