Calling all travellers with a sweet tooth! If you enjoy the third course more than any other, this article is for you. You’ve read about the best street food and the tastiest drinks in Asia, now your belly is crying out for a sugary treat to finish off the meal. Luckily, there are plenty of Asian desserts to satisfy your craving.
Whilst Asia is predominantly known for its noodles and rice, there is far more to this continent than just that. And for those of you that can’t bear to say goodbye to your favourite staple, rice may just be making an appearance on our list too…
So grab a pen and paper and take note, these are the Asian desserts you must try when you next venture east!
Best Asian Desserts:
1. Pisang Goreng
Popular in Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia, this delicious dessert is made by deep-frying bananas or plantain. They are usually consumed as a snack but because of their sweet taste, they are the perfect treat to fish a meal with!
Pisang Goreng can be brought from street vendors and also found in cafes. Sometimes they will be served with cinnamon or powdered sugar on top. It is also not unusual to find them accompanied by ice cream – even better!
2. Mango Sticky Rice
This traditional Asian dessert originates from Thailand and is made from fresh mango, rice and coconut milk. It is a favourite amongst backpackers, partly because it is so cheap and secondly because it is so darn refreshing!
Found in upmarket restaurants and on street carts alike, just ask for ‘Khao Niew Ma Muang’ if you’re looking to try this dish. You can’t leave Thailand without enjoying a taste of this tropical rice pudding!
One of the best sweet Filipino snacks available, halo-halo is a hugely popular summer dessert. This colourful sweet treat is often said to have been inspired by the Japanese summer dessert anmitsu, another type of shaved ice blend.
Halo-halo is a mix of beans and fruit which is topped with varying mixes of condensed/evaporated milk and shaved ice. Although ingredients change depending on where you buy the dessert, bananas, coconut and red mung beans are frequently used. The result is an extravaganza of colour and tastes. Desserts are definitely more fun in the Philippines!
This unique Japanese dessert is made from agar jelly, a translucent jelly with little taste, derived from red algae. It is served in a bowl with boiled peas, Azuki paste and a number of different fruits. There will be a small pot of mitsu served alongside it (a type of sweetened black syrup) which is poured onto the jelly.
This dish is seasonal and is usually eaten when the weather is warm. It is also possible to get cream anmitsu which is just the traditional dish with ice cream on top.
Arguably one of the best Asian desserts out there, the Vietnamese Ché covers a whole range of sweet treats. Used to describe any sweet drink, soup or pudding, Ché usually has a coconut milk base, giving it its sweet flavour.
Ché can be served either hot or cold and an array of different ingredients are used to make it. Beans, pulses, fruit and jellies all make a frequent appearance in different ché variations. Many Vietnamese will make ché at home, however, it is sold in plastic cups at grocery stores all over the country.
6. Dragon Fruit
A favourite of many, Dragon fruit might just be the coolest looking fruit out there! The pink spiky skin encases either a white or dark pink flesh which is juicy and refreshing.
This Asian fruit has loads of health benefits too so it acts a guilt-free dessert! As well as being high in vitamin C and fibre, it is also a great source of magnesium, necessary for keeping your bones strong!
This Japanese ice cream is a favourite among both travellers and locals and comes in many different variations. Made from glutinous rice, it is pounded into a thick paste before being moulded. There is no standard shape for mochi and it is not uncommon to see the dessert as a ball or in the shape of a flower.
One of the most popular variations mochi is Sakuramochi which are also known as ‘cherry blossom rice cakes’. These are traditionally eaten on Girl’s Day (also known as Hinamatsuri) which takes place on March 3rd.
8. Egg Tarts
It may surprise you to discover that although egg custard tarts are usually associated with Europe, they have actually found an unlikely home in Asia too. Egg tarts are eaten in mainland China, Macau and Hong Kong.
The variation eaten in Hong Kong is most like the English egg tart but can sometimes contain green-tea flavoured custard fillings. In Macau, the tarts differ again as they are much closer to the traditional ‘Pastel de Nata’ served in Portugal.
9. Shwe Yin Aye
This traditional dessert from Myanmar is a coconut cream based dish. It consists of sweet sticky rice, pandan jelly noodles and sago or tapioca pearls. Shwe Yin Aye is served cold and is refreshing but rich, meaning it can lay a little heavy.
Despite this, the dish is hugely popular in Myanmar, particularly during summer and Thingyan festival. It is usually served with a slice of white bread, to soak up the coconut cream at the end.
10. Khanom Khrok
These coconut-rice pancakes originating from Thailand are a hugely popular dessert over Southeast Asia. Khanom Khrok is made by combining coconut milk, sugar and rice flour. The dough is cooked in a hot indented frying pan.
Sometimes additions will be made to the filling to change the taste from sweet to savoury. These can include taro, pumpkin, chives or corn. You will be able to find this popular Asian dessert on street food stalls across the country.
The second fruit to make it on to our list is everybody’s favourite, passionfruit! This is easy to find across Asia whether it is being sold in its raw fruit form or has been adapted into a juice or cocktail. In the Philippines, passionfruit is a regular feature in public markets and at schools. Sometimes it is sold with a straw for sucking out the juice inside.
Passionfruit is super refreshing and also comes with health benefits. It is rich in vitamin C and iron, which helps to boost our immune systems and increases haemoglobin in our red blood cells. Eating lots of passionfruit can help you stay healthy whilst backpacking so make sure you stock up!
Popular in the Philippines, taho (not to be confused with tabo!) is a soft tofu-based dessert that is the ultimate sweet comfort food. Usually served in a cup, the tofu is soaked in arnibal syrup (made from melting brown sugar) before being sprinkled with sago pearls to finish.
Traditionally served warm or at room temperature, taho is easy to pick up from street vendors across the country. Different variations of taho have also popped up in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
13. Ais Kacang
Most commonly seen in Malaysia, ais kacang translates to ‘bean ice’ which may serve to give you some idea of what to expect from this Asian dessert. Originally, this delicious snack was made only from red beans and shaved ice, however, a number of ingredients are now used in the dessert.
A hand crank was always used to churn out the shaved ice, however, as the dessert has grown in popularity, these machines have become motorised to keep up with demand. Ais kacang is most known for its ludicrously bright appearance and it is easy to pick up from coffee shops and hawker centres.
14. Khao Lam
This Thai dessert is more commonly known as sticky rice in bamboo. The sweet sticky rice can be either the red version or the white and is steamed inside the bamboo tube itself. Once the rice has been mixed with the ingredients (usually coconut shavings, sugar and beans), it is stuffed into the bamboo sticks. Coconut milk can be added on top.
This dessert is similar to rice pudding and many street vendors across Thailand will sell it. Look out for those on night markets and close to popular temples. Khao Lam originates from Thailand but it is also enjoyed in both Laos and Cambodia.
Traditionally eaten during Mid-Autumn Festival in China, the mooncake is adored across the country, not just for its taste but also because of its important place within Chinese culture. Mooncakes are usually round pasties with a thick filling of either lotus seed or red bean paste.
During Mid-Autumn Festival, which is sometimes referred to as Mooncake Festival, friends and family exchange these tasty snacks. In modern times, businessmen have started to present mooncakes to their clients as presents. This has fuelled the demand for high-end mooncakes.
16. Khanom Chan
This ancient Thai dessert is very similar in texture to jelly. It is made with a variety of different flours including tapioca, rice and mung bean. It is the tapioca flour which makes the dessert sticky and appear transparent. The name Khanom Chan translates from Thai mean layered dessert.
Khanom Chan usually has white and green layers traditionally, however, different food colourings are sometimes used. There are usually nine layers in this dessert as it holds associations with prosperity in Thai culture.
17. Ube Halaya
This colourful Asian dessert is made from mashed purple yams. Once mashed, the yams are then added to a saucepan with melted butter and condensed milk. The mixture is stirred until it reaches a thick consistency.
Ube Halaya is refrigerated before finally being served cold. Sometimes coconut or additional condensed milk is used to top the dessert. Delicious!
18. Bubur Kacang Hijau
Also known as Burjo, this sweetened dessert is consumed across Southeast Asia. It is made from mung beans, coconut milk and palm or cane sugar, creating a kind of porridge. In Indonesia, this dish is nearly always served with black glutinous rice and bread.
As well as being eaten as a dessert, bubur kacang hijau is often enjoyed as a late-night supper or breakfast too. Whilst it isn’t the most visually appealing dish, it sure is delicious!
This dessert is found in several countries across Southeast Asia and it is not entirely clear where it originated from. Most theories support an Indonesian beginning however, this dessert is hugely popular in Malaysia as well.
It is made from shaved ice, coconut milk, palm sugar and rice flour jelly noodles (they look a little like gummy worms)! Whilst the ingredients (rightly in my opinion) inspire trepidation amongst some western travellers, this refreshing snack is well worth a try. Different variations of cendol may include kidney beans and corn too.
20. Khanom Bueang
These scrumptious Thai crepes are a popular street food dessert which is hugely popular with travellers. They are served folded over (giving them an appearance similar to tacos) and are usually filled with coconut cream before different salty or sweet toppings are sprinkled over the top.
It will cost you around 30-35 baht for a portion of khanom bueang from a street vendor in Thailand. Don’t miss these, not just for the taste but also for a chance to see them being made – it is sort of mesmerising!
21. Hello to the Queen!
Okay, I’ll confess I have no idea where this name comes from! Despite the mystery which shrouds this Asian dessert – it is absolutely one you must try! This calorific explosion of all things yummy is the answer to your prayers.
A fusion of ice-cream, banana, chocolate sauce and cookies, Hello to the Queen is commonly found on tourist menus in India. There is little about the dessert online as it is sort of a local enigma but it is regularly enjoyed by travellers in Goa, Dehli, Pushkar and Manali.
22. Banh Gan
You may be somewhat put off of this Vietnamese dessert when you hear what the name translates to in English. Banh Gan actually means liver cake. The good news is that this cake does not contain any liver – you’re safe! The name comes from the appearance of the dessert which is a greyish dark brown colour.
Whilst none of that is going to have you drooling, hopefully, you should have a bit more faith when I tell you that Banh Gan is essentially Vietnam’s version of the créme caramel, however, this version incorporates lime and coconut. It has a silky texture and is very refreshing – just don’t be put off by the colour!
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