Travel Ladybugs: Five Desserts to Try in China
by Michelle Chan
China is a vast territory of exquisite cuisines and amazing cultural experiences. Whether you explore the restaurants of Guangdong province or stop on the road for street food, you will always find some kind of tasty Chinese cuisine. From dim sum to street food, Chinese desserts hold unique tastes and textures that are unlike any Western desserts. For one, they are shared amongst family and friends, letting the deliciousness go all around the table. Here are the top five desserts you need to try when visiting China (or Chinatown in America for that matter):
Egg Tarts (蛋挞–Dan Tat)
If you’ve ever had these scrumptious mini tarts, you’ll know they are pretty addictive. This dessert consists of a flaky, crispy crust filled with warm, sweet custard. When you bite into it, its flavors and textures melt right into your mouth. The egg tart originated from Macau, where Portuguese colonizers traveled to Mainland China and introduced the recipe. There are actually two types of egg tarts sold in Chinese/dim sum restaurants: Hong Kong Egg Tarts (Dan Tat) or Portuguese Egg Tarts (Poh Tat). While Dan Tat is sweeter and flakier, Poh Tat has a creamier, smoother texture with a caramelized custard filling. As for my opinion? I think you should try both because, honestly, they’re both equally amazing.
Rice dumplings in sweet soup (汤圆–Tang yuan)
Oh my goodness. If there’s anything I can eat in this world on a daily basis, it would be this dish. These glutinous rice balls are served in a small bowl submerged in sweet, almost syrupy-like broth. It’s a traditional dessert that’s most popular during the winter solstice (Dongzhi festival), where it symbolizes the shortest day of the year. While it’s mostly eaten during this celebration, it’s also eaten during Chinese New Year as well as being used as offerings to the gods. Fun fact: these glutinous balls can be served with and without filling (my personal favorite is the one filled with sweet black sesame––it’s seriously divine). So if you happen to visit China (or even just visit Chinatown in the states) I completely recommend trying this at least once.
Dragon's Beard Candy (龙须糖–long tzi tang)
It’s exactly as it sounds like. These spun rolls of white candy floss are served with a handful of toasted peanuts, sesame seeds, and coconut, giving its texture a light and fluffy melt-in-your-mouth experience. As a delicacy of the Han dynasty, these traditional desserts are made during special occasions and festivals. However, it’s common to find them on the side of the road in food stands.
Sticky Coconut Rice Balls (糯米糍–Nuomici)
Typically served in dim sum restaurants, these palm-sized glutinous rice balls doused in coconut flakes and filled with a perfectly sweet peanut filling are simply satisfying after a long, hot day. You can find this dessert in Guangdong province and Hong Kong and, of course, your local dim sum restaurant. It’s seriously sweet and probably not healthy for you but, hey, it’s totally worth the tasteful experience.
Crispy Durian Roll (榴莲酥–liúlián sū)
This one’s going to get a bit controversial. These delicacies form a crispy, almost Dragon’s Beard Candy-like covering (except fried) and a soft durian inside. If you don’t know what durian is, it’s a southeast Asian fruit covered in spikes (to protect itself from the haters, obviously) that has an unbelievably strong stench and taste. Known as the “king of fruits” in the region, its innards a resemble soft taffy-like flesh. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it. The next time you come across this, beware.
Hopefully these various desserts will give you something new to try on your traveling experience and broaden your world of diverse cuisines. Happy eating!