Desserts in Asia? A Guide to Sweet Treats in China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines
A dessert is a typically sweet course that concludes an evening meal. The course usually consists of sweet foods, but may include other items. In world cultures, there’s a wide variety of desserts including cakes, tarts, cookies, biscuits, gelatins, pastries, ice creams, pies, puddings, custards, and sweet soups.
In this article, I’ll look at the differences in portion size, taste, texture, and presentation for Asian desserts.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 Do Asians Eat Desserts Like in the West?
- 2 Indulging in the Sweet World of Chinese Desserts
- 3 Exploring the Sweet World of Japanese Desserts
- 4 Thai Desserts: A Sweet Guide to the Best Tastings
- 5 Indulging in the Sweetness: Popular Filipino Desserts
- 6 Conclusion
Do Asians Eat Desserts Like in the West?
Asians do eat desserts, but their approach to desserts is different from that of the West. Here are some differences:
- Portion size: In the West, desserts are often served in large portions, but in Asia, desserts are typically served in smaller portions. This is because Asians prefer to savor the taste of their desserts without feeling too full.
- Ingredients: Asian desserts often use ingredients that are not commonly found in Western desserts, such as red bean paste, mochi, and matcha. These ingredients give Asian desserts a unique flavor and texture.
- Presentation: Asian desserts are often presented in an artistic and visually appealing way. For example, Japanese desserts are often served in small, delicate portions on beautiful plates.
Just like how different regions in Asia have their own unique cuisines, they also have their own unique desserts. Here are some examples:
- Indian desserts: Indian desserts are known for their use of spices such as cardamom, saffron, and cinnamon. Popular Indian desserts include gulab jamun, rasgulla, and kulfi.
- Malaysian desserts: Malaysian desserts often use coconut milk and pandan leaves to give them a unique flavor. Popular Malaysian desserts include cendol and pulut hitam.
- Vietnamese desserts: Vietnamese desserts often use tropical fruits such as mango and jackfruit. Popular Vietnamese desserts include che ba mau and banh lot.
Indulging in the Sweet World of Chinese Desserts
Chinese cuisine is known for its rich flavors and intricate cooking styles, and desserts are no exception. Despite being an ancient tradition, desserts are not normally served after dinner or lunch in Chinese culture. However, they are an essential element of any big celebration or official round table dinner. The word for dessert in Chinese is “tian dian,” which means “sweet dish.”
Desserts in China are prepared in a delicate and artful way, creating unique and incredible flavors that are a feast for the senses. The main ingredients used in Chinese desserts are rice, sugar, and water, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Popular Chinese Desserts
Here are some of the most popular Chinese desserts that you need to try:
- Sticky Rice Balls: Also known as Tang Yuan, these sweet rice balls are usually served in a hot ginger soup and are a traditional dessert during the Lantern Festival. They come in a variety of flavors, including black sesame and red bean paste.
- Egg Tarts: This dessert originated in Hong Kong and is now found in Chinese restaurants all over the world. The filling is made of egg custard and is baked in a pastry shell.
- Double Skin Milk: This dessert is a super delicate and unique dish made by pulling the milk into a thin layer and then shaping it into a round form. It is served cold and is a popular dessert in Guangdong province.
- Red Bean Paste: This is a popular ingredient in Chinese desserts, and it is normally used to fill pastries and buns. It is made by cooking red beans with sugar until it becomes a smooth paste.
- Mooncakes: This is a traditional dessert that is eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The filling consists of lotus seed paste or red bean paste and is surrounded by a thin pastry shell. Mooncakes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and some even have a salted egg yolk in the center.
- Black Sesame Soup: This dessert is made by mixing black sesame paste with water and sugar. It is usually served hot and is a popular dessert in the southern part of China.
Cooking Styles and Varieties
Chinese desserts come in a variety of styles and are prepared in different ways. Here are some of the cooking styles and varieties of Chinese desserts:
- Steamed: This is a common way of cooking Chinese desserts. It is a simple and healthy way of creating delicate and light desserts.
- Fried: Despite being a heavy cooking style, fried desserts are a popular dish in China. They are usually made by putting the dessert in hot oil until it becomes crispy and golden brown.
- Pulled: This is a unique way of creating Chinese desserts. It involves pulling the dessert into thin strands and then shaping it into a specific form.
- Mixed: Chinese desserts are often made by mixing different ingredients together to create a unique flavor. This is a common way of creating desserts in China.
Exploring the Sweet World of Japanese Desserts
When people think of Japanese cuisine, they often think of sushi, ramen, and other savory dishes. However, Japan also has a rich tradition of sweet desserts that are just as delicious and unique as their savory counterparts. Japanese desserts are typically less sweet than Western desserts, but they are no less flavorful. They often incorporate traditional ingredients like rice, soy, and red bean paste to create a delicate and nuanced flavor profile.
How Japanese Desserts are Served
Japanese desserts are typically served in small portions, unlike the large slices of cake or pie that are common in Western desserts. They are often served with tea or coffee and are meant to be enjoyed slowly and savored. Japanese desserts are also known for their delicate presentation, with each dish carefully crafted to create a beautiful and appealing appearance.
The Difference Between Japanese and Western Desserts
There are a few key differences between Japanese and Western desserts:
- Japanese desserts are typically less sweet than Western desserts.
- Japanese desserts often incorporate traditional ingredients like rice, soy, and red bean paste.
- Japanese desserts are often served in small portions and are meant to be enjoyed slowly.
- Japanese desserts are known for their delicate presentation and beautiful appearance.
Thai Desserts: A Sweet Guide to the Best Tastings
Thailand is undoubtedly a country that loves its sweets. Thai desserts are unique and traditional, and they vary from area to area. They are usually prepared with fresh ingredients, making them a delicious choice for anyone on vacation in Thailand. In this guide, we will explore the most popular Thai desserts that tourists should not miss.
Sticky Rice with Mango
Sticky rice with mango is probably the most famous Thai dessert. It consists of sticky rice that is cooked with coconut milk and sugar and served with sliced fresh mango. This dessert is usually prepared during the mango season, which is from April to May. The combination of the sweet sticky rice and the fresh mango gives it a taste that is completely different from any other dessert. It is undoubtedly a must-try for anyone visiting Thailand.
Tapioca pudding is a Thai dessert that uses tapioca pearls cooked in coconut milk and sugar. It is usually served with sliced mango or other fresh fruits. This dessert is vegan-friendly and is a great choice for those who want to try something new. The texture of the tapioca pearls gives it a unique taste that is different from any other pudding.
Coconut jelly is a dessert that is made from coconut milk and sugar. It is usually served in a bamboo leaf and is topped with caramel or other toppings. This dessert is a favorite among tourists and is loved for its unique taste. The coconut milk gives it a creamy taste, and the jelly melts in your mouth, making it tastier.
Thai Crème Caramel
Thai crème caramel is a dessert that is similar to the western version of crème caramel. However, the Thai version uses coconut milk instead of regular milk, giving it a unique taste. It is usually served with sliced mango or other fresh fruits. This dessert is easy to prepare and is a great choice for those who love sweet desserts.
Black Sticky Rice Pudding
Black sticky rice pudding is a dessert that is loved by many in Thailand. It is made from black sticky rice that is cooked with coconut milk and sugar. It is usually served with sliced mango or other fresh fruits. This dessert is a great choice for those who want to try something different. The black sticky rice gives it a unique taste that is different from any other dessert.
Indulging in the Sweetness: Popular Filipino Desserts
Filipino desserts are known for their sweet and traditional taste, often featuring rice as a primary ingredient. Rice is a staple food in the country, and it’s no surprise that it’s used in different forms to create a variety of desserts. One popular type of dessert is the sticky rice cake, called “bibingka,” which is made by mixing ground rice with water, sugar, and coconut milk. This mixture is then poured into clay pots and steamed until it’s cooked. It’s usually topped with sliced salted egg and cheese and served hot. Another popular dessert is the “kakanin,” which is a type of rice cake that comes in different flavors and colors. It’s made by combining glutinous rice with coconut milk and sugar, and then adding different ingredients to create a special version of the dish.
Special Ingredients and Techniques
Filipino desserts also feature a wide range of ingredients, including eggs, cane sugar, and different types of fruits. One popular dessert that combines these ingredients is the “leche flan,” which is a type of custard made with egg yolks, condensed milk, and sugar. It’s cooked using a special technique called “bain-marie,” which involves setting the mixture in a water bath to ensure that it thickens evenly. Another popular dessert is the “halo-halo,” which literally means “mix-mix” in Filipino. It’s a dessert that combines different ingredients such as sweet beans, fruits, and blocks of jelly, topped with shaved ice and evaporated milk. This dessert is believed to have Japanese influence and is now available in different restaurants and stores in the country.
History and Significance
Filipino desserts have a rich history and are considered an essential part of the country’s food culture. Many of these desserts have been passed down from generation to generation and have become a part of the country’s culinary identity. Some of the most popular desserts, such as the “ube halaya” (purple yam jam) and the “maja blanca” (coconut milk pudding), have become familiar to people all over the world. Filipino chefs have also been able to add their own twist to these desserts, creating new and exciting versions that combine different flavors and techniques.
Quick and Easy to Make
One of the best things about Filipino desserts is that they are pretty easy to make. Most of the ingredients are readily available in stores, and the techniques used are simple and straightforward. If you want to try making some of these desserts at home, here are some quick and easy recipes to get you started:
- Bibingka: Mix ground rice, water, sugar, and coconut milk in a bowl. Pour the mixture into clay pots and steam until cooked. Top with sliced salted egg and cheese.
- Leche Flan: Mix egg yolks, condensed milk, and sugar in a bowl. Pour the mixture into a mold and cook using a bain-marie. Let it cool and serve.
- Halo-Halo: Combine sweet beans, fruits, and blocks of jelly in a bowl. Top with shaved ice and pour evaporated milk over it.
Filipino desserts are a perfect way to indulge in the sweetness of the country’s food culture. Whether you’re able to try them directly in the country or want to master making them at home, these desserts are sure to bring a little bit of the Philippines to your table.
So there you have it- the differences in how they eat desserts in Asia. As you can see, it’s not just about the desserts themselves, but also the way they’re prepared and served. But don’t worry, there are still plenty of similarities!
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.