There’s more to Asian sweets than mochi balls and bubble tea. If your knowledge of Asian food falls on the savory side of the spectrum, you’re in for a treat. South Asian sweet shops are uncommon outside of Asia. You’re not likely to stumble upon a shop selling syrupy gulab jamun or bowls of sago.
Asian desserts tend to be sweeter and smaller than their North American counterparts. The aim is to provide a small hit of sugar after a leisurely meal under the scorching Asian sun. For example, gulab jamun is so different from the curdled milk balls that give them a bad name in the hours-old steamer trays of Indian buffets. The ones from Asia, on the other hand, are fragrant with notes of cardamom and rose, and melt in your mouth.
Dim Sum Desserts: Red Bean Paste Base.
Next time you’re out for dim sum, impress your brunch mates by ordering dessert. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried a Hong Kong-style egg tart. A flaky base gives way to smooth custard and it’s hard not to eat the whole thing in one bite. Red bean paste can be as divisive as cilantro or black licorice, but if you’ve got the palate for it, any dim sum house worth its salt will have a wide range of red bean pastries. If you can get your hands on some sweet tofu, try it. Bean curd is such a versatile ingredient and it’s surprisingly habit-forming in sweet form. Dou fu fa is a dish of silken tofu, prepared with syrup. Regional varieties differ based on the flavouring of the syrup. Singaporean tofu pudding will often come with a green tint from the pandan leaves. In Canton, it’s more likely to come with ginger syrup.
The Perfect Balance.
Ice kacang can be found in any hawker centre in Singapore, yet it’s a dessert that’s virtually unheard of outside of the Malaysian peninsula. This shaved ice dessert is the perfect soothing remedy for a mouth set ablaze by fiery noodles. The ingredients that accompany each bowl are diverse and delightful. The base of the ice ball often sits on a broth made from condensed milk, red beans and grass jelly. Sweet corn comes piled on top and a dusting of chopped peanuts completes the dish. Variants like chocolate or rose syrup, aloe, durian, and ice cream are also common.
Give Me a Break.
A partnership between the Japanese post office and Nestle Kit Kat are to thank for the wacky flavours of this wafer chocolate bar that you’ll find in Japanese supermarkets. Kit Kats are known as 'Kittu Katsu' in Japan, a phrase that translates to ‘surely win.’ Each postal office in Japan is stocked with Kit Kat bars. Nestle even launched a campaign in 2009 that encouraged sending Kit Kat bars to students who were about to write exams. The bars are associated with good luck, and Nestle has taken advantage of the wild success of the campaign by launching several new flavours that would surely raise some eyebrows in American supermarkets. Green tea-flavoured Kit Kats sound tame compared to candied sweet potato, apple vinegar, cantaloupe, and ginger ale varieties.