Chewy Rice Balls in Coconut Milk (Ginataang Bilo-Bilo)

The other day I visited the World Wide Plaza in Central with Evelyn, and after being treated to a lovely lunch of taro greens, jackfruit, rice, and halo-halo, she showed me around the place. It was a wonderful jumble of stores selling all sorts of things- Filipino souvenirs, fast food, snacks, clothing, DVDs, toys, jewelry… You name it, and they probably have it!

One thing I didn’t get to try there was ginataang bilo-bilo, for the simple reason that I was absolutely stuffed! But Evelyn promised to teach me make it at home, and I promised to write about her recipe. So here it is, ginataang bilo-bilo in all its glory- with many thanks to Evelyn, until I can properly return the favour! 🙂

Ginataang bilo-bilo is a Tagalog name for a dessert made with coconut milk, tapioca pearls, rice balls, and other optional ingredients. It roughly translates into ‘small balls of dough cooked in coconut milk’, though Evelyn says bilo-bilo really doesn’t translate in any English word at all.

Whether it translates or not, the one thing I can say for sure is that this is delicious! Like many recipes, ginataang bilo-bilo varies depending on the cook, and what is available. Ingredients such as sweet potato, yams, jackfruit, plantains, and frozen corn are often added.

Bilo Bilo Spoon

Plantains aren’t very readily available here in Hong Kong, but for the sake of authenticity Evelyn bought some from World Wide Plaza. They are like large, starchy bananas, but better! They also lend a slight sweetness to the recipe so I didn’t use much sugar.

Normal rice balls are white in colour. Me being me, I had to mess with the recipe a little. I added some pandan flavouring to the dough (with Evelyn’s approval!), and in addition to adding a perfumed touch to the dessert, it also dyed the dough an interesting green colour.

Bilo Bilo Texture

The hardest part of this recipe is probably rolling out the little rice balls- but even that wasn’t so hard! I found the dough made with glutinous rice flour to be much more well-behaved than a wheat dough, and with a little gentle rolling between the palms they literally take seconds to make. As long as you don’t squish them accidentally and have to start over like I did!

The texture of the rice balls are silky-soft and chewy, unlike the texture of anything I’ve eaten before. They are perfect with the rich and creamy coconut milk and the sweet purple yams. They are also the perfect size for plopping into the mouth one after another- not saying that I did that! Most of all, they are one of the few foods I would describe as ‘cute’. But aren’t they cute?

Bilo Bilo Bite

Ginataang Bilo-Bilo Recipe
(Serves 6)

Ingredients

1 cup glutinous rice flour
1/2 cup water
pandan flavouring (optional)

1/4 cup small tapioca pearls
2 star anise
1 purple yam, peeled and cubed
1 can coconut milk (13.5 oz)
2 tablespoons coconut sugar, to taste
3 ripe plantains
1/3 cup frozen corn
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a saucepan, soak tapioca pearls and star anise in 2 cups water. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together glutinous rice flour and water to form a soft dough. Add in pandan flavouring in small amounts and knead to distribute evenly.
  3. Using the palms, roll the dough into balls the size of large marbles. Lightly dust with flour and set aside.
  4. Add purple yams to tapioca pearls. Bring to a boil and cook until purple yams are soft, about 15 minutes.
  5. Add in the remaining ingredients, except for the rice balls.
  6. When the mixture returns to a simmer, carefully drop the rice balls into the saucepan. Keep stirring to stop them from sticking. When they begin to float after 3 to 5 minutes, take the saucepan off the heat.
  7. Serve hot immediately, or let cool in the fridge for a refreshing dessert. Enjoy!
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