Hong Kong has lots of traditional desserts that are loved by all. Most desserts are created with natural ingredients and great food alternatives to stay healthy while satisfying the sweet tooth. Hong Kong desserts come in the form of soup, puddings, jellies, and cakes. 

 Grass jelly 涼粉/仙草

Grass jelly
Grass jelly (© 陳克弦  via Flickr)

Grass jelly is a Chinese herb jelly commonly seen in East Asia. The main ingredient for grass jelly is the herb named platostoma palustre. It uses the herbs that are pre-soaked in water for hours, cooked then uses its liquid to combine with rice flour and cornstarch to form a jelly. This results in the color black and has a slightly bitter taste with a mildly chewy texture. It is served as a dessert in chunk or cube form and pairs with other ingredients such as coconut milk, evaporated milk, sago soup, or as a specialty drink with milk tea.

Tofu pudding 豆腐花

Tofu pudding
Tofu pudding (© Discover Hong Kong)

Tofu pudding is known as the traditional smooth beancurd dessert. It is rich with soybean flavor and has a soft, delightful texture different from regular tofu. It uses soymilk, which is prepared with uncooked soybeans blended and strained followed by cooking on the stove. Once soymilk is formed, by adding pre-dissolved edible gypsum or plaster powder and stir to form the bean curd. Serve tofu pudding with brown sugar to create a combination of soft and crunchy texture or the alternative of adding syrup to enjoy the original soybean flavor in a silky texture. 

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Mango sago pomelo pudding 楊枝甘露

mango sago pomelo pudding
Mango sago pomelo pudding (© City Foodsters via Flickr)

Mango sago pomelo pudding is a sweet and popular dessert invented in Lei Garden in 1984, a Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong. The dessert name comes from the idea of the manna from a willow branch to refresh someone and is popular in tropical climates. This is a refreshing dessert with sago, syrup, cream, mango, and pomelo chunks. It provides a balance of fair smooth creamy and citrus taste. The creation of pudding is to blend mango to juice form, add in syrup, coconut milk, milk, water, stir, mix with precooked sago, and top with pomelo to serve. 

Red bean soup 紅豆湯

Red bean soup
Red Bean Soup (© jj via Flickr)

Red bean soup is a sweet dessert that is usually served hot. It is cooked with red beans, chang pei which is Chinese sun-dried orange peel, and cane sugar. Red bean soup usually results in a meshy sand-like texture by cooking longer. However, it can also be served as a clear and chewy texture with beans that are just fully cooked. This is a dessert that is high in protein and low fat. It is commonly served as dessert in weddings with the meaning of “May happiness be with you and may you stay in love.”

Black sesame tong yuen 黑芝麻湯圓

Black sesame tang yuan
Black sesame tong yuen (©  hongzhizhu – Flickr)

Tong yuen is a dessert of small white doughy balls with filling in the center. The black sesame filling is prepared with saute sesame seeds in a wok to get its aroma, then put into a blender. For making tong yuen, it is combined with glutinous rice flour and warm water to form the outer layer, then add in fillings to form a circle ball. Tong yuen tastes soft, chewy, and warm. It’s a signature festival food for the lunar new year, lantern festival, winter solstice, Mid-Autumn Festival, and weddings. Typically this dessert means family reunion and togetherness.  

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Osmanthus flower jelly 桂花糕

osmanthus jelly
Osmanthus flower jelly (© Tefal Home HK)

A dessert floral scent jelly filled with delicate osmanthus flowers. Osmanthus flower blossoms around autumn and particularly people would sit under this tree to gaze at the full harvest moon. This jelly is a beautiful representation of the season and celebrates the Mid-Autumn Festival. A semi-translucent jelly that is soft, delicate, and sweet. The jelly is made with dried osmanthus flower, dried wolfberry, crystal sugar, and gelatin powder. The taste of the jelly is sweet yet a bit tart. The true pleasure of this dessert comes more from the aroma.

Milk pudding 燉奶  

Milk pudding
Steamed milk pudding (© Open Rice)

This traditional milk pudding uses pure milk to simmer, combined with sugar to create a rich milk curd texture. Egg white is a common ingredient some use for thickening during cooking. Milk pudding is soft, smooth, creamy, but different from double skin milk, where the essence is the two skin milk layers formed on top during the cooking process. Milk pudding is a dessert rich in protein which is great for skin health benefits. Most like it best when served hot, but cold is great too. Famous places include Yee Shun Milk Company and Australia Dairy Company in Hong Kong. 

Sago soup 西米露

Sago soup
Sago soup (© Open Rice)

Sago soup is referred to as sai mai lou in Cantonese, a sweet soup dessert with small clear pearl tapioca balls. It uses evaporated milk or a milk substitute and coconut milk as the base. Sago is made from starch that is extracted from palm plants, a processed kind of rice to make lightly chewy tapioca balls. This tapioca is different from pearl tapioca that is used for bubble milk teas and they are cooked differently. Sago soup is best paired with fruits, red beans, and sweet potatoes to enhance its flavor. Sago is good for the spleen and lungs.

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Walnut soup 合桃露

walnut soup
Walnut sweet soup (© HK01)

Walnut soup is a dessert with a texture between creamy and broth. Walnut naturally has a hint of bitterness, and it is cooked by boiling it then strained and sauteed to enhance its flavor and aroma. The soup is very rich with a blend of walnuts, smooth and nutty taste. It is commonly served with crystal sugar to balance the bitterness. Walnut is rich in linoleic, which provides nutrients for the mind, has vitamin E, and improves skin health. Some believe that the shape of the walnut resembles the brain which encourages the belief of supporting the mind.

But jai gou 砵仔糕

but jai gou
But jai gou (© bed B via Flickr)

Put Chai Ko has been a traditional snack dessert that has been around since 1980. It is a circle bowl-like pudding cake. The cake is made with red beans, sticky rice flour, brown sugar and mixed with starch. The traditional way of eating Put Chai Ko is to pour out the cake from the bowl and serve it with a skewer. If you are looking to use white sugar you can make White Put Chai Ko as an alternative. Put Chai Ko is known as one of the famous Hong Kong historical street snacks and it is semi-soft, mildly chewy, sweet, and rich in red bean flavor. 

Hong Kong desserts are full of history and creativity. A simple traditional dessert can be a great alternative to try for a sweet yet healthy snack. Traditional style dessert shows an appreciation of cultural legacy.

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Angela studied Culinary Art & Food Service Management and had lived in the United States for several years. She has traveled to several countries and experienced their unique cultures of food and life. Having grown up with a passion for food she seeks to try any specialty food wherever she goes. You can learn more about her journey on her website.

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