Local Hong Kong desserts sometimes get a bad rep, but we’re here to change your mind for the better…
Hong Kong desserts are one of a kind. Similar to its culture, it’s a mix of Western and Chinese flavours and techniques. Those who have never tried it are usually sceptical at first, and we can completely understand why – where’s the guilty pleasure in eating tofu and beans for dessert? But trust us, they’re too good to be missed.
Hong Kong desserts come in many (too many!) shapes and forms; some are more traditional with Chinese herbs and medicinal benefits, while others are just pure joy. Everyone knows and loves the crowd favourites like egg tarts, waffles, French toasts and the typical red bean soup, so we’ll be focusing on the lesser-known gems, all of which are just as (if not more) delicious. Keep scrolling for your ultimate guide to local Hong Kong desserts.
Read more: The Best Bakeries In Hong Kong
Traditional “Sweet Soup” (糖水)
“Sweet Soup” holds a special place in locals’ hearts. Each type of “Sweet Soup” brings nutritional benefits and are consumed at different seasons of the year. In the summertime, you should be looking for ingredients that bring “cooling” effects (like green bean soup), while in the winter, make sure to opt for ingredients with nourishing and “warming” benefits (such as nuts and ginger).
Sesame/ Walnut Soup (芝麻糊/合桃露)
Nothing beats a warm, nourishing bowl of sesame or walnut soup after dinner during the winter months. These are commonly known for their beautifying properties, so it’s usually a favourite amongst the ladies. If you love nuts, make sure you give these a try. Other popular variations include almond (杏仁茶) and cashew (腰果露).
What to expect: A thick, creamy and smooth soup. Usually served warm, but some places may offer chilled options.
Glutinous Rice Balls In Ginger Soup (薑汁湯圓)
Another winter favourite, these sweet glutinous rice balls are most commonly filled with black sesame paste (though you may find some with red bean paste or peanut paste too). It’s usually served in a hot ginger soup which makes your whole body heat up almost immediately. A good soup will appear murky yellow (an indication that a lot of ginger has been used), with a taste that’s spicy, aromatic and pungent, all at the same time. This dessert is usually a big hit during festivities when families come together, mainly because the name of the dessert also sounds like the Chinese word for “reunion”. Fun fact: you’ll usually be served eight rice balls in a bowl because eight sounds like “wealth” in Cantonese, and is therefore the luckiest number in Hong Kong.
What to expect: Chewy rice balls with a filling of your choice. The ginger soup is sweet and (a little) spicy. Served hot.
Glutinous Rice Balls With Peanut Sauce (糖不甩)
Same same, but different. These rice balls have no filling and are not served in a soup. Instead, they come with ground sweetened peanuts for you to coat them in. The name in Chinese literally translates as “the sugar won’t fall off”, which basically sums up the dish. It is sweet, nutty, chewy – pretty much everything we love! These are great for a quick snack.
What to expect: Smooth and chewy rice balls with sweetened ground peanuts. Usually served warm.
Bean Soup With Sago And Coconut Milk (喳咋)
This Hong Kong dessert looks an awful lot like the red bean soup you love (or hate), and it might taste a little bit like it too, but Bean Soup with Sago and Coconut Milk is actually a more enriched version made with many types of beans, combined with taro and sago and topped with coconut milk. Rumour has it, this dessert actually originated from Macau but became widely popular in Hong Kong. Give it a go, it’s particularly tasty on a cold winter day.
What to expect: Sweet, rich dessert with softened beans, sago and taro. Guaranteed to make you feel full. Usually served hot.
Herbal Tea Soup with Lotus Seeds and Egg (桑寄生蓮子蛋茶)
Probably the most “old-school” out of all the desserts on this list, the Herbal Tea Soup is meant to reduce “wind and wetness” in your body and nourish your kidneys and livers. Yes, that is an egg you see in the picture, but it (surprisingly!) fits very nicely into the whole dish. As a bonus, this pick apparently helps to reduce PMS – run don’t walk ladies!
What to expect: “Grass Jelly” flavoured hot, sweet soup, served with softened lotus seeds and a hard boiled egg.
Mango Pomelo Sago (楊枝甘露)
Saving the most well-known Hong Kong dessert for last, Mango Pomelo Sago was created in the 1980s by famous Chinese restaurant Lei Garden. This is arguably the most welcomed dessert by tourists: it’s sweet, refreshing and, let’s face it, everyone loves mangoes! It’s worth noting that the pomelo brings a slight twang of bitterness, nicely offsetting the creamy flavours.
What to expect: Creamy and rich mango dessert, with pomelo bits and sago. Usually served cold.
Where To Find Them
You can find most of these sweet soups at any local dessert shop (don’t go to a Taiwanese style store by mistake!). Here are some of our favourites:
Tsui Yuen Dessert (翠苑甜品專家), various locations across Hong Kong – we love the Causeway Bay branch
Total Dessert Shop (滔滔甜品), various locations across Hong Kong
Yuen Kee Dessert (源記甜品專家), G/F, 32 Centre Street, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong, 2548 8687 – this is one of the oldest dessert shops in Hong Kong and is most famous for the Herbal Tea Soup with Lotus Seeds and Egg
Apart from “sweet soups”, here are some other speciality desserts you need to try.
Double Skin Milk Pudding (雙皮奶)
Think of this as the Cantonese version of Panna Cotta. The ingredients in Double Skin Milk Pudding are simple and minimal: milk, egg white and sugar. However, dessert chefs pride themselves on the techniques involved in making this Hong Kong dessert. The “double skin” (which is the thin sheet layer you see at the top of the dish) needs to be thick, but not too thick. The milk pudding must be creamy, smooth and solid enough so it doesn’t spill over everywhere. If you like Panna Cotta, give this one a go. PS: for those ginger fans, have a try of the Ginger Milk Pudding (薑汁撞奶).
What to expect: Sweet, creamy and smooth milk pudding. Can be served hot or cold.
Where To Find It
Australia Dairy Company (澳洲牛奶公司), G/F, 47-49 Parkes Street, Jordan, Hong Kong, 2730 1356
Yee Shun Dairy Company (港澳義順牛奶公司), various locations across Hong Kong – we love the Jordan branch
Editor’s Note: At the time of writing, Australia Dairy Company place is temporarily closed due to COVID-19.
Sweet Tofu Pudding (豆腐花)
No, you’re not reading it wrong; this Hong Kong dessert is made from tofu! Tofu (or soy beans) is one of the most popular and commonly used ingredients in Chinese cooking, so of course it has made its way into the dessert space too. Served in sugar syrup, Sweet Tofu Pudding is a light yet creamy dessert. It is so smooth and silky that it’s usually served with a special slicer to make sure it doesn’t fall apart. If you’re still on the fence, just know that Asian aunties across the city claim that eating tofu pudding will make your skin smooth and glowy – hey, it’s worth a try!
What to expect: Silky smooth tofu which is sweetened with syrup and yellow sugar. It can be served hot or cold.
Where To Find It
Yan Wo Dou Bun Chong (人和荳品廠), various locations across Hong Kong – we love the Causeway Bay branch
Yee Heung Bean Product Company (義香荳腐食品), G/F, 74 Nga Tsin Long Road, Kowloon City, Hong Kong, 2382 5006
廖同合荳品廠, 1067 Canton Road, Mong Kok, Hong Kong, 2392 9293
合和荳品, G/F, 4 Sharp Street East, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 3483 5788
Sassy Tip: It’s said 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 (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.
HK Style Mango Pancakes (芒果班戟)
This dessert is a great example of how Hong Kong adapted Western dishes to suit local tastes. Thick layers of cream and large slices of sweet mango are wrapped up in an ultra-thin pancake skin – we’re not sure who wouldn’t love this!
What to expect: Soft bites of cream and sweet mango.
Where To Find It
Sawdust Dessert (木糠甜品屋), G/F, 20 Haven Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 2893 8311
Red Bean and Brown Sugar Pudding (砵仔糕)
A popular street snack, these puddings have a romantic back story to it. Rumour has it, a young man from China came to Hong Kong to start a new life. He started making glutinous puddings on the street and they became a popular local treat. One of his loyal customers was a lady whom he began to fall in love with. He learnt one day that this lady had fallen ill, so he began to add red beans to these puddings to make them more nutritious and asked for them to be delivered to the lady – with this, they soon became lovers and the rest is history! Maybe it is this story, or maybe because of the taste, but this Hong Kong dessert remains a popular snack for couples on a date.
What to expect: A chewy sweet pudding, shaped like a bowl and filled with red beans.
Where To Find It
Most local bakeries will make these – here are some of our favourites:
Dai Kee (大記攦粉糕點專門店), G/F, 10 Ki Lung Street, Prince Edward, Hong Kong, 2787 1398
卓越食品餅店, G/F, 183 Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong, 2540 0858
時代豆業, 1/F, Canal Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 2151 1332
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on 13 August, 2018 by Virginia Chan and has been most recently updated in January, 2021 by Cynthia Lok.
All image courtesy of Cynthia Lok.