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Chinese Desserts - Do They Even Exist?

If you’ve been to a couple of Chinese restaurants, you probably know by now that flipping to the Dessert section of the menu is an exercise in disappointment.  How could 5,000 years of culture and civilization amount to three miserable lines on the Dessert menu?

Well, before you bemoan the lack of sweetness in Chinese cuisine, let us first assure you that desserts do exist in China, just not in the usual way that you’re used to.

Also, Chinese desserts aren’t actually that sweet. So if your idea of ending on a sweet note is a Sticky Date Pudding with a double scoop of ice cream, then the mild sweetness of traditional Chinese desserts will leave you feeling sugarless. 

Curious about Chinese desserts?  You’ll be surprised at how you’d grow to like them!

Sweet Soup


Image Credit: Wikimedia

Soup? Really?

Yes, you heard right. Cold or warm sweet “soups” are the perfect end to a big sumptuous Cantonese meal. Called Tong Sui in Cantonese, these sweet soups aren’t often found in other regions of China but are extremely popular in Cantonese regions as well as Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Some of the most popular ones are Red or Green Bean Soup, Black Sesame Paste, or Peanut and Walnut Paste. The combination of sweet and savory makes it a very satisfying dessert that isn’t overly heavy as there isn’t cream involved. 

Also, to make you feel better, red and green beans, black sesame and nuts are all pretty healthy. Some sweet soups are even made with ingredients that have medicinal qualities, such as the Snow Fungus with gingko and red dates sweet soup.  Anti-inflammatory, great for skin, good for memory, what else can you want from a dessert? 



Image Credit: Wikmedia

Think soft fluffy buns stuffed with red bean or taro. Or how about the Egg Tart, which is influenced by the Portuguese colony in Macau?  There is also the Po Lo Bun, which is a testament to how amazingly good butter, flour, and sugar can taste.

Chinese pastries aren’t glamorous, and neither are they made with the finesse that you’ll see in French pastry-making. However, that doesn’t mean that Chinese pastries aren’t great. Think of them as simple, humble and accessible comfort food to have any time, whether after a meal or on their own as snacks.

Some Chinese restaurants will offer deep fried pastries as dessert, but in general, you can find them easily in most bakeries so you can take them home and stuff your face with those goodies fresh out of the oven.

There are also seasonal pastries that are ravished during special festivals.  For example, the Moon Cake is nearly everywhere during the Mid-Autumn Festival.  



Image Credit: Flickr

Grass jelly, almond jelly, osmanthus jelly, and the list goes on. Jellies are either made of gelatin or in some cases, like the grass jelly and aiyu jelly, they could set by themselves. 

Jellies are a great refreshing dessert that is light, mildly sweet, and can be eaten right after a meal or as a mid-day snack, especially on a hot summer day. 

The grass jelly is a popular dessert in Southern China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. If all you’ve been having is grass jelly in a can, then ditch that notion and have a bowl of traditional grass jelly made in the good old artisanal way. Fresh grass jelly is fragrant and has a delightful bittersweet aftertaste that some describe as smoky. The grass that is used is Chinese mesona, a plant in the mint family and is often used in summer to bring body temperatures down. 

The Osmanthus Jelly is one that’s delicate, refreshing, and not to mention easy to make at home as well. Osmanthus is a flowering plant that is native to Asia and is widely used in teas and desserts for its medicinal properties. It’s known in Chinese medicine to be a great agent for detox, is high in anti-oxidants, and its fragrance is even a potential appetite suppressant which makes it an ideal way end a meal in which you went overboard.



Image Credit: Wikimedia

No, not the candies from the supermarket, but real yummy traditional candies bought from street vendors. The Dragon Beard Candy is fun one to eat, and is probably the grandfather of candy floss. It’s a traditional art form in itself if you can witness a master chef making it, and its history goes back to the Han Dynasty.

Made of spun sugar, it’s a sticky melt-in-your-mouth savory candy and is a must-try if you ever come across it. 

The Candied Apple and other candied fruits will not fail to catch your eyes when you visit Beijing. Street vendors and carts with skewers of crabapples will sweeten your day and have been part of the city landscape whether in the tourist areas or out of them.

Have you eaten any of these Chinese desserts? 

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About the author

Tilda is a happy sufferer of chronic wanderlust. When she isn't spending a disproportionate amount of time Googling about places and cultures, she's writing, dancing, and navigating a massive career change. She shares stories and photography on Wanderful People, and shares her coffee with no one.


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