Guest Post: The Truth about South East Asian Desserts

I’ll let you in on a little secret. South East Asian desserts are delicious.

Don’t believe me?

I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t believe me either if I hadn’t discovered it for myself, but Asia can offer a lot more than just mung bean broths and durian fruit. A little understanding is required when it comes to sweets in South East Asia; just accept that a French vanilla slice is not about to magically appear on your plate. Just know that you will not stumble upon a Belgian chocolatier selling lemon soufflé truffles. Realise that a warm rhubarb crumble with Madagascan vanilla custard has no place in this warm climate. Just accept it. That way, you’ll be able to open up your mind to another world of sugary goodness. You may even unearth a few delectable treasures, just like I did.

My Dessert Discoveries in South East Asia

As the author and editor of The Smart Girl’s Travel Guide, I make it my lifelong mission to eat my way around the world; tasting, trying and taking pleasure in everything. From fried tarantulas and fermented shark to mouldy thousand year old eggs, there’s very little I’m willing to try – some people will never understand my curiosity, but an inquisitive mind helped me discover the perfect desserts in what I’d previously branded as ‘The Land of No Desserts’.

South East Asia is a goldmine of sweet treats. You just have to tweak your sweet tooth expectations – just a tad – and try everything. Eventually, you’ll find something that you can’t believe you ever lived without.

My Top 5 Desserts from South East Asia

Ais Kacang with Aloe Vera Jelly

This is an ageing woman’s dream – a delicious dessert that gives you beautiful skin. At the end of a hot and humid day, there is nothing more rewarding than an evening dessert, and Ais Kacang with aloe vera jelly chunks would be my pud of preference. Singapore is overflowing with night hawkers and food courts, selling delicious aloe vera combinations at unbelievable prices, and the street food culture really comes to life in the night.

Ais Kacang is the mouth-watering combination of crushed ice, fresh fruit, tangy sorbets, large chunks of aloe vera jelly pieces, sometimes a naughty scoop of ice cream, finished off with sweet condensed milk.

Leche Flan

This is the Filipino version of the Creme Caramel, and like the chicken and the egg, I’m not really too sure which came first. But who cares when this delicate yet indulgent sweet leaves that special tooth feeling warm and fuzzy from a sugary high.

Leche flan is steamed for the ultimate softness and served chilled in its own trickling caramel sauce. Some restaurants or specialist dessert shops may add their own little touches such as fruit, chocolate sauce and other toppings.

Bubble Tea

“How is tea a dessert?” I hear you say. Trust me when I say that Bubble Tea is like no other tea you have ever tasted. If we really want to be pedantic then we could just call it a “refreshment” – and it really is so refreshing. Bubble Tea can be made in a few different ways and is available in various flavours across Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Brewed mostly with black tea, plenty of milk, sugar or honey, crushed ice and lip-smacking topiaca pearls, this milky dream will feel like a rescue mission in the middle of a parched desert.

Your eyes will light up when you see the exciting exhibition of colors, and your senses will go wild when you let those slippery jelly-like pearls ooze through the straw and down your throat. Sensational.

Lo Mai Chi (Snowballs)

Now, you have to be careful with these little Chinese snowballs. They come with eccentric epicentres such as red bean paste, black sesame paste, and crushed peanut filling, or they can come in the best possible way – plain with a pretty dusting of coconut flakes. Some travellers have compared Lo Mai Chi to eating glue, but I assume they’re the same type of people who think Haloumi is salted rubber and Escargot is garlic infused elastic bands.

I love Lo Mai Chi, anyway. It’s the perfect finger food (if you don’t mind your fingers sticking together a little bit) or it can be served moist after being poached in a mildly sweet soup. If you want to taste the best snowballs around, avoid the packaged supermarket desserts and visit a street stall for a freshly made plate of chewy goodness.

Chinese Sponge Cake

I’ve never been a big fan of chocolate cake myself. I’m more of a lemon drizzle or a plain jam sponge type of girl. So with Chinese Sponge Cake (most often served as birthday cakes), absolutely nothing was missing for me – it was sheer perfection when I tried it for the first time.

If you’re a big chocolate gateau gorger, this may not rock your world like it does mine. But what I can tell you, is that this is the softest, lightest, wispiest and fluffiest cake you will ever bring your fork to. The supple bounce of the moist sponge teamed with the glorious cream and fruit filling will leave you wanting more. But don’t be fooled by that airy texture. The cake is traditionally steamed to achieve such a luscious consistency and it feels barely there as it melts in your mouth, but the calories are.

Mags Yip is a British travel writer with a compulsive obsession with food and travel. She is the
author and editor of The Smart Girl’s Travel Guide, and in her budget travel guide, she writes about
her food experiences in South East Asia, Africa, America, Europe and the UK.

What are YOUR favorite South East Asian desserts?

© Connie Hum 2011

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