Trying a new cuisine often feels like a slap. It’s the best kind of slap, too, because it can shatter your notion of what you thought you wanted, when you realize you’ve been placing safe bets on food for years. To someone unfamiliar with Asian desserts, the usage of ingredients like yams and beans, tofu and rice—considered savory ingredients to a Western palate—might seem outlandish, engaging in “risky” behavior. Certainly, if you believe dollops of cream and chiffon cake were the rule, Asian desserts are going to reverse the natural order of your universe. Once you’ve crossed over, we think you’re going to be infatuated. Among the specialties of Asian desserts are plays on texture and temperature, and surprises in misplaced expectation that satisfy like none other. You may discover you’ve been living in the prison of the ice cream sundae for years.
1. Taiwanese Shaved Ice
Get these types of Asian desserts at: Meet Fresh
If you’ve never curtained yourself off, on a scorching afternoon, in the back of an air-conditioned stall, with Taiwanese shaved ice—you should. Joyful mounds of ice cream and ethereal shaved ice are studded with gems of mochi, taro rice balls, boba, and creamy azuki beans. When you chew on one thing, you recall the bounce or creaminess of something else, which creates ripples of pleasure.
2. Salted Egg Yolk Croissant
Get these types of Asian desserts at: Beau by Talita Setyadi
The salted duck-yolk bao—oozing with gooey custard that is salty, sweet, rich, and a little gamey, too—have graced Hong Kong dim sum parlors for nearly a decade now. But check out this Singaporean take: Lusciously creamy, molten custard spilling out of a croissant.
3. Mitarashi Dango
Get these types of Asian desserts at: your local Japantown
Where the winds pick up on the warmest night of the year, you’ll find a neighborhood crowded around a mochi stall. There’s something about the smell of grilled mochi—pillows of sweet mochi skewered, grilled, and shellacked with a caramelly soy sauce glaze (mitarashi) that imparts a burnt fragrance. The tender mochi sinks against your teeth as you chew—you’ll be engaged with its texture.
4. Black Rice Pudding
Get these types of Asian desserts at: your local Asian desserts parlor
Commonly served for breakfast in parts of Southeast Asia, this pudding is a perfect substitute for blah oatmeal. A steaming mound of sweetened forbidden rice is submerged in a pool of coconut milk. The sticky rice is obscenely delicious, the grains nutty, chewy, dense. Mini cubes of tender coconut or taro root, sometimes cool lobes of mango, add another layer of texture.
5. Dragon Beard Candy
Get these types of Asian desserts at: Dragon Papa Desserts
If fantasy merged with confectionary shop, this is what you’d get. Wisps of spun sugar, ethereal as a dragon’s beard, stained cotton-candy pink and filled with peanuts. The puffs of candy are so soft they might pass as clouds pried from the pages of a children’s picture book. But they’re still real enough to gobble at the office.
6. Ube Cheesecake
Get these types of Asian desserts at: Hood Famous Bakeshop
There are countless formulas to make your team feel special. Here’s one. Creamy purple yam enters cheesecake for a Filipino-style treat. Deliver this as a late-afternoon pick-me-up, and Instagram feeds will thank you.
7. Thai Rolled Ice Cream
Get these types of Asian desserts at: 10Below Ice Cream
After some “stir-frying” on an icy metal plate, with bits of cookies thrown in, the Thai-style ice cream is rolled. Paper-thin layers are curled into tight rose buds, then topped with trickles of condensed milk and piles of goodies. As soon as the layers hit your tongue, they dissolve to velvety cream.
8. Mango Sticky Rice
Get these types of Asian desserts at: U Dessert Story
Mango slices cling to a warm heap of sticky rice. A drizzle of coconut milk makes all the difference. Set out bowls of this at 4 o’clock and you’ll develop decades-long friendships at the office.
9. Macanese “Po” Egg Tart
Get these types of Asian desserts at: your local Chinatown
Macau is famous for its po tart, a Portuguese import so popular there that some KFCs in Asia make their own version of it. It’s best if you calibrate your schedule with the baker’s so you get a fresh batch served scorching hot. A firm but juicy egg custard rests atop a rich, salty pastry cup ready to shatter apart in your mouth.
10. Hōjicha Kakigōri Shaved Ice
Get these types of Asian desserts at: The Little One
On a clear summer night, you can take in the powdery night sky and enjoy Japanese-style shaved ice. The frosted temperature will put a snap on your tongue, just before you taste the fragrant roasted green-tea syrup, a rich Japanese molasses, and the creamiest of creamy lime-zest whipped cream. The arcing sky above you, you’ll feel like a kid again.
Got a sweet tooth?