13 August, 2018
Eat & Drink

Your Guide to the Most Popular Local Desserts in Hong Kong

13 August, 2018

Chinese desserts sometimes get a bad rep, but we’re here to change your mind for the better, and are telling you all about what they are and where to find the very best!

The traditional desserts in Hong Kong are, a lot of the time, supposed to be “good for us”. Whether it’s to cool down our bodies during a hot summer’s day (cold green bean soup), to warm it up during the colder winter months (ginger soup), or to make our hair shinier (black sesame paste) – there’s usually a reason and philosophy behind what we’re eating (supposedly!). Hong Kong has a lot of soupy, hot desserts with various beans in, but there is so much more to the city’s sweet treats than just red bean soup. You just have to know what you should look for and where to find them.

Everywhere knows (and loves!) the crowd favourites such as egg waffles and egg tarts, so we’re focusing on authentic local desserts that are less known but nevertheless, are absolutely heavenly! Here’s what they are and where to find the very best

楊枝甘露 Mango Pomelo Sago

Mango Pomelo Sago is the introductory dessert that you should try if you’ve never had a Hong Kong dessert before! Often red bean soup is the first Hong Kong style dessert that people encounter, as it’s often provided complimentary during a Chinese banquet style dinner, and red bean is a very common and popular dessert ingredient in Hong Kong, Japan and Korea, but it might initially be a bit strange for first timers. We love hot and soupy desserts, exactly like a red bean soup, but it does take some time getting used to all the different textures and ingredients in it. Mango pomelo sago on the other hand, is a dessert that’s always love at first sight bite.

Unless you don’t like mango (and who doesn’t like mango?!), this is usually a crowd favourite. The story of the origin of the mango pomelo sago is quite interesting as well. It’s said that the former chef of Lei Garden (the Michelin-starred restaurant in Hong Kong) invented this dessert as the restaurant wanted to expand its operations into Singapore in the ‘80s. Lei Garden wanted a new dessert to attract the Singaporean market and decided that mango and pomelo (Chinese grapefruit) with sago would be the winning combination…. People in Singapore and Hong Kong loved it and till this day, it’s still very popular with the locals in both countries. It’s a super nice and refreshing dessert during the hot summer months and you can even include a scoop of ice cream with it.

What to Expect:

A chilled mango flavoured dessert made with coconut milk, and topped with pomelo fruit, sago pearls and fresh mango

Where to Find it:

Well, it wouldn’t be right unless you went straight to the source right? Try it where it was invented at Lei Garden. It’s called chilled mango paste with grapefruit and sago on the menu. Other than that, any traditional dessert house will have mango pomelo sago, though we really like Cong Sao dessert house in general for all of its desserts including the mango pomelo sago.

利苑酒家 Lei Garden, Shop 3008, 3/F, IFC, 1 Harbour View Street, Central, with multiple other locations across Hong Kong,  www.leigarden.hk

聰嫂星級甜品 Cong Sao Star Dessert, G/F, 11 Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay, with multiple other locations across Hong Kong

The famous michelin-star sesame rice dumplings

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薑汁芝麻湯圓 Glutinous Rice Dumplings with Black Sesame Paste in a Ginger Soup

A hot dessert and a staple dessert during the winter months. This is also the dessert that is commonly consumed during Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Years, or any major family oriented holiday. This is because the rice dumplings are called “tang yuan” and reunion, such as reunion of the family coming together for dinner, is “tuan yuan”, in which both words are similar in pronunciation so “tang yuan(s)” have an auspicious meaning.

A good ginger soup should be murky yellow as it’s an indication that a lot of ginger has been used, and the ginger should be spicy, aromatic, and pungent, all at the same time. Ginger is said to help to warm us up from the inside-out, so it’s the perfect dessert on a cold winter’s day. Usually there are eight “tuan yuan(s)” in a bowl because eight sounds like “wealth” in Cantonese and; therefore the luckiest number in Hong Kong.

What to Expect:

A hot and sweet ginger soup, served with dumplings made of glutinous rice flour and stuffed with sesame paste.

Where to Find it:

Kai Kai’s ginger soup is so powerful that it will clear your sinuses right up! This traditional Hong Kong dessert restaurant is Michelin recommended and makes all of its own desserts – top sellers are the glutinous rice dumplings and black sesame paste.

佳佳甜品 (Kai Kai but no English on awning), G/F, 29 Ning Po Street, Jordan, Kowloon, Hong Kong

豆腐花Tofu Pudding

We’re not sure how scientific it is, but many Asian aunties claim that eating tofu pudding will make your skin smooth, glowy and amazing. Tofu pudding itself is not sweet, but it is accompanied by either syrup or raw sugar that you can top it with, and it can be eaten cold or hot. Commonly, you can get it with different dessert toppings so the red and white would be red bean with tofu pudding and the black and white would be black sesame paste with tofu pudding, etc.

Tofu pudding is supposed to be silky smooth and therefore, chefs usually use a flat, thin ladle and slice the tofu pudding into your bowl, being careful not to break up the tofu pudding.

What to Expect:

A silky, soft set tofu pudding, which can be eaten hot or cold, and is often served topped with syrup or red beans.

Where to Find it:

One of the smoothest and silkiest tofu puddings in Hong Kong can be found at Kung Wo Beancurd, but as a no frills kind of place, you can only get hot or cold tofu pudding (no topping selection available). The restaurant makes all soy products really well, so it fresh tofu is amazing as well.

公和荳品廠 (Kung Wo Beancurd but no English on awning), G/F, 118 Pei Ho Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Tip: Water is everything and the same is true when it comes to tofu pudding. People say that the best tofu pudding is made with mountain water (山水), so in areas where you’re hiking or cycling, there will be little shacks selling “mountain water tofu pudding”. The best time to tuck in a bowl of tofu pudding is when you’re sweaty, tired and need some fuel to keep going! Watch out for a popular one on the cycling route from Taipo to Tai Mei Tuk, and there are also numerous stands once you get to Tai Mei Tuk. Look for crowds of people and signs that say: 山水豆腐花. 

雙皮奶配咖央多😋

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雙皮奶 (Double Skin Milk Pudding)

The literal translation of this dessert is “double skin milk”, but it can also be called double boiled milk pudding, and it is a Cantonese dessert that has origins in Shude, Guangdong. It’s called double skin/double boiled milk pudding because two skins on top of the milk are formed during the cooking process. Traditionally, buffalo milk is used because it’s got a higher fat content compared to cow’s milk, and the higher the fat content, the more velvety the texture. It’s a very simple dessert with minimal ingredients, but it’s very rich and smooth in taste, similar to custard.

What to Expect:

A rich and smooth set custard dessert, somewhat resembling panna cotta, with two skins. Served cold.

Where to Find it:

If you’re a first timer, we would recommend going for the cold original double skin milk pudding here, but the local favourite is actually the hot ginger double skin milk pudding. Yee Shun first started in Macau and it’s said that the chefs use buffalo milk that they get from their own buffalo farms in China.

港澳義順牛奶公司 Yee Shun Dairy Company, G/F, 506 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay, with multiple other locations across Hong Kong

港式西多士Hong Kong Style French toast

A breakfast food in other countries, and a traditional afternoon tea food in Hong Kong, but we’ll sneak it onto this list because it’s definitely sweet enough to belong in the dessert section.

Hong Kong style French toast is very sweet, but very yummy and is best shared with friends and washed down with an icy red bean drink. Basically, it’s white bread dipped in egg and then deep fried, but in the middle there is usually peanut butter or kaya jam. When served, it comes with a generous pad of butter on top and it’s best consumed with a liberal serving of golden syrup. Most cha chaan tengs will serve French toast during afternoon tea time (from about 2:30pm to 5:30pm ish).

What to Expect:

Thick cut white bread, dripped in egg and deep fried. Often filled with peanut butter, or kaya jam and topped with condensed milk or golden syrup and butter.

Where to Find it:

One of the remaining old school cha chaan tengs around, Hoi On Café is an institution and has been around for over 60 years, serving the same good ol’ comfort food that the Hong Kong locals love, and of course, French toast is one of them. We like its mini French toasts where one order is just a quarter of a slice, but with 3 levels.

Lok Yuen offers a slight twist on the French toast; as the chefs add satay beef into the middle as the filling, so it’s sweet and salty altogether. Don’t get turned off by this strange combo – it is delicious. So make sure to try it before you judge it!

Tip: Lok Yuen closes at 3:45pm, so make sure to go early.

樂園 (Lok Yuen but no English on awning), Shop 6, 3/F, Kowloon City Municipal Services Buildling, Nga Tsin Wai Ro, Kowloon City, Kowloon, Hong Kong

海安咖啡室  (Hoi On Café but no English on awning), G/F, 17, Connaught Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong

 

If you’re interested in sampling some traditional HK desserts, in addition to other local delights but with the comforts of an English speaking guide, then come join Virginia’s Humid with a Chance of Fishball’s Off the Eaten Path Food Tour that leads you through Whampoa, devouring all her favourite local eats, all whilst learning about the local restaurants, their stories and the neighbourhood.

 

Featured image courtesy of www.leigarden.hk. Image #1 courtesy of maki_39_ via Instagram, image #2 courtesy of justhavetoeat via Instagram, image #3 courtesy of bleublurry via Instagram, image #4 courtesy of kathy0719 via Instagram, image #5 courtesy of immiuchan via Instagram

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