Top 10 Most Popular Desserts in China

Top 10 Most Popular Desserts in China

While walking through the streets of China, crowded with people and shops alike, you may find that there is a multitude of sweets and desserts in various stalls to choose from. People of all ages enjoy delicious sweets and sharing a tasty snack with friends and loved ones. With desserts originating in China thousands of years ago, many vendors have mastered the craft of making some of the world’s most flavorful sweets.

In China, there are a plethora of regional desserts and wildly popular sweets that can be found. Baked goods, cold desserts, and candies are some year-round favorites, but there is also a range of special desserts made for specific holidays or seasons. Exploring China through desserts is one of the tastiest and most filling journeys to enjoy in this vast country.

What is the Difference Between Chinese Desserts and Western Desserts?

From rich chocolates from South America to the marvelous cakes from Europe, there are plenty of mouthwatering options around the world. There are also long-standing traditional desserts from China. While international desserts are getting more popular in recent years, classic Chinese dishes are still among the most popular in the country. Here are some major differences between Chinese and Western-style desserts.

Portion Size

Many dessert dishes in the West are served in a large form, such as cakes or ice cream, making it necessary to share with friends or save some for another day. However, desserts in China can come in different sizes as per your request, even in individual pieces, making it easy to share with friends as well. It is also much less sweet than the same kind from Europe or United States.

When is Dessert Served

This might be the biggest difference from what you are used to. When you order a sweet food or dessert in a restaurant in China, it is not customary that the dessert will be served at the end of the meal. Whenever your desired dish is ready, they will serve you to eat at your leisure. Some sweets are meant to be eaten at the beginning or middle of the meal. This is to make sure you are not too full to enjoy the deliciousness of these savory treats!

Some of the Top Desserts in China

Here is a list of some of the most popular sweets to look for when you travel to China. This list is in no particular order, but it is recommended that you try them all during your excursions!

1. Red Bean Paste Bun (dòushābāo)

You will find that red bean makes up a majority of Chinese desserts and is included in dishes with a sweeter flavor, favorited in cities like Shanghai and Hangzhou. The dark red color of the paste appears similar to chocolate, but the flavor is very unique.

Chinese sweet makers have developed the famed red bean bun from the popular baozi dish, which is filled with a variety of options of veggies and meat. The red bean bun is the dessert form of this nationally recognized dish.

As one of the most popular dessert dishes, it can be found in upscale restaurants as well as in local markets. So there are plenty of opportunities to try this while visiting China.

2. Macau Style Egg Tarts (dàntà)

Macau Style Egg Tarts

This is one of the most internationally influenced Chinese desserts on the list. First produced by Portuguese colonizers, the sweet egg tart was a famed dish in Macau and made its way into popularity to mainland China. This might come as a sweet that is familiar to you, with a hard exterior crust and a sweet egg filling.

You will find these tarts anywhere but will be specialized in Cantonese style restaurants and bakeries. Look for these tarts in markets and convenience stores as well. Each tart is small, so one is enough for one person. If you are craving for a great dessert, buy two or three for yourself! Make sure you get a warm tart; the temperature brings out the best in the flavor.

3. Dragon’s Beard Candy (lóngxūsū)

This is one of the most popular sweets to find from street vendors. Dragon’s beard candy is a sweet that is made and appears similar to what you might know as cotton candy. The small size and showmanship that can be performed by making the dragon’s beard candy will attract many customers. This is a famed sweet that is an enjoyment to eat as well as a recognized art that the vendors have practiced for long periods to learn how to properly make.

You will be able to find dragon’s beard candy makers near popular tourist sites and along the roads of shopping streets. Their carts are compact, but the flavor of each bite is huge! You can easily find these desserts in tourist destinations in Shanghai, Chengdu, Xi’an, Shenzhen, and plenty more locations.

4. Candied Fruit on a Stick (tánghúlu)

Candied Fruit on a Stick

This might also come as a familiar sweet, sharing similarities to candied apples. The traditional tanghulu is a sweet consisting of hawthorn dipped into sugar. Instead of hawthorn, you may find other options like strawberries, a small apple, and orange.

This is most commonly served in the colder months, as it is easier to make sure the sugar coating stays strong. Originating in Beijing, this sweet treat has spread around China. You can find tanghulu from cart vendors in popular streets and outside of city parks. It is hard to miss!

5. Pumpkin Pancake (nánguābǐng)

This is a simple, yet amazingly flavorful sweet. The deep-fried exterior holds a combination of sweet sugar, pumpkin, and flour. Pumpkin is a favorite flavor for autumn and winter, making these great sweets for colder months. The flavor is very sweet compared to many of the other desserts mentioned here.

Pumpkin Pancakes were first popular in the Sichuan Province, but have found popularity around the entire nation. For some of the tastiest and most traditional sweet pumpkin pancakes, visit a Sichuan style restaurant.

6. Mooncakes

Mooncakes

Mooncakes are a special treat for the Mid-Autumn Festival. The most common ones are sweet but now people invented salty flavor to enrich the choice. These small cakes are filled with sweet or savory insides that make for a seriously tasty treat in autumn. During the festival season, mooncakes are given as gifts and shared with friends and families to follow the long-standing story of the tradition. If you will be in China during this time of the year, this is a must-try.

7. Double Skin Milk Pudding

This is a longtime favorite of southern China, originating in Guangdong and specialized around the country in Cantonese style restaurants. The mushy texture is familiar to pudding and has a similar recipe using milk, sugar, and eggs. The lengthy history of this dish has even made it internationally recognized as a cultural aspect of Southern China.

Some of the best places to find this tasty milk pudding treat are in southern cities such as Guangzhou, Shunde, Macao, and Hong Kong.

8. Durian Pastry (liú lián sū)

Durian Pastry

Durian is a famed fruit that is found predominately in Asia. One of the main characteristics is the unique texture and pungent smell. While this might turn some away from trying the treat, the taste of durian is something very unique to experience. As many people outside of Asia have never tried the durian fruit, it is an exciting new flavor to try and tell your friends about.

One of the most popular and widely found desserts across China is fried durian pastries. These deep-fried delicacies add a crunchy exterior to the soft and flavorful durian fruit. To eat the freshest and most flavor-filled durian treats, try to taste this dessert in the summer, during peak durian growing season.

9. Snow Fungus Soup

While this soup might appear as a standard dish at first, once you take a bite, you will find that the flavor is super sweet. A combination of snow fungus with some sweet fruits and rock sugar makes this one of the sweetest souls in the world. Originating in Cantonese restaurants, this sweet dessert is a great end to any meal. There are also many benefits to eating the healthy ingredients packed into snow fungus soup.

10. Sweet Egg Bun (nǎi huáng bāo)

Sweet Egg Bun

Sharing similar qualities and flavor profiles with the previously mentioned egg tart and red bean paste bun, this combines the gooey exterior bun with the tasty savory flavor of egg yolks and sugar on the interior. This might not sound much like a dessert to many and more of a small breakfast teat, but once you take a bite of the egg bun, you will find that its sweet flavor is unlike any egg-based snack you have tied before.

One of the most popular locations to find sweet egg buns is in Cantonese style restaurants. Like many other dishes on this list, Cantonese style foods have some of the most widely popular influences on modern Chinese dessert and cuisine.

There are a wide variety of sweets that you can choose from when traversing the diverse lands of China. Sweets originate from all over the country, giving different regions a wide range of specializations in sweet treats. Regardless of where you are, if you look for the right places, you can find some of the most delicious desserts. There is nothing better than enjoying a tasty dessert with your friends and family. Some of these smaller desserts also make delicious gifts to take home to friends!

By Nicholas Osborne
Writer