The Local Sweet Tooth: Chinese Desserts in Shanghai

The Local Sweet Tooth: Chinese Desserts in Shanghai

When you think of desserts, the first things that spring to mind would probably be things like cakes, ice-creams, pies, chocolates and generally things that are associated with Western cooking. But what comes to mind when you think about Chinese desserts?

While Chinese desserts are less well-known compared to the Western classics, they are still very popular around Asia. One of the best things about living in Shanghai is that you have easy access to many Chinese dessert shops or restaurants with good quality products. Here are some Chinese desserts that are enjoyed commonly by the locals:

1) Steamed Egg White & Fresh Milk Pudding (双皮奶)
This milk pudding is one of the best dishes to ease your way into Chinese desserts. By mixing milk, white sugar and egg whites together and steaming them in high heat, these ingredients transform into a silky, creamy milk pudding which bears a similar texture and flavour to an Italian panna cotta.

Though unlike panna cottas, which are commonly served cold and accompanied by a berry or caramel sauce, the Chinese egg white and milk pudding is best served warm either plain or with nuts, red beans or lotus seeds. This dessert is believed to originate from Guangdong province in the 1800s. Over the years, many restaurants featuring local snacks and cuisines in Macau and Hong Kong began serving this dish and it has since made its way to other parts of China in recent decades.

Where to try it:
Sweetie’s (甜蜜蜜)
Add: Multiple locations in Shanghai (See website)
Price: 12 - 18 RMB for different options (plain, chocolate, with red beans or lotus seeds)

2) Sweet Soup
A warm bowl of sweet soup is a common dessert after dinner in many homes in China (especially in southern provinces) all year round. There are many different types of sweet soups suitable for different seasons according to the main ingredient’s medicinal characteristics (i.e. green beans are believed to have a “cold” or “cooling” effect for the body, hence green bean soup is commonly consumed in the summer).

The most popular options at this time of the year would be the sesame soup (black), almond soup (white), and walnut soup (brown). To make things more interesting, in recent years many dessert shops started providing the option of adding extra “toppings” to the sweet soups (i.e. tofu pudding, sweet rice balls). A personal favourite is adding the white, silky tofu pudding to the luscious dark sesame soup and creating a true black and white dessert.

Where to try it:
Honeymoon Dessert (满记甜品)
Add: Multiple locations in Shanghai (See website)
Price: 15 - 17 RMB for different options (plain, with sweet rice balls or tofu pudding)

3) Grass Jelly (仙草)
Grass jelly might be off putting at first sight with its pitch black colour, but if you are a fan of herbal flavoured food, this is dessert would be a great choice.

The traditional Taiwanese grass jelly is served hot with red/green/kidney beans, tapioca and taro balls (芋圆 yu yuan). After being cooked, the jelly turns into a soup form which is perfect for a cold winter day.

In China, grass jelly is more commonly served cold with the jelly itself diced into small blocks and often topped with a little bit of syrup. In more recent years, different dessert shops around the country have gotten creative with the use of toppings and condiment on grass jelly. Toppings like fresh fruits, sago, taro balls and ice-cream are popular choices amongst its fans while creamer and coconut milk are often used as substitutes for the traditional syrup.

Where to try it:
Meet Fresh (鲜芋仙)
Add: Multiple locations in Shanghai (search for 鲜芋仙 on Google or Dianping)
Price: 20 RMB

4) Taiwanese Smoothies
For icy dessert lovers, Taiwanese smoothies are a great choice. In many ways, they are very much like ice-creams, but Taiwanese smoothies have a lighter texture similar to a sorbet, and do not lose their richness in flavour.

The two most popular flavours of smoothies are peanut and mango. Between the two, I particularly enjoy the peanut smoothie because it immediately brings to mind the pleasure of scooping peanut butter out of the jar and putting it into your mouth. Mango smoothie is also a tasty selection, but would be more seasonal when enjoyed in the summertime.

Where to try it:
Bellagio Cafe (鹿港小镇)
Add: Multiple locations in Shanghai (see website)
Price: 32 RMB (peanut smoothie) / 33 RMB (mango smoothie) – 2-3 people can share a bowl

Having been brought up with both Chinese and Western desserts, it’s difficult to say which one is better than the other. On the one hand, a majority of traditional Chinese desserts tend to have simple flavours that reflect and represent the original ingredients that are in season; on the other hand, Western desserts tend to be more multidimensional where different ingredients and condiments join in synergy to create layers of flavours and textures in a dish. If you are tired of having cheesecakes and coffee after dinner, explore some of the options above!

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Keywords: best desserts shanghai sweet soups shanghai milk pudding shanghai grass jelly shanghai Chinese desserts shanghai


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