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Asian desserts...why don't I like them?

I have been wondering for a long time why it is that, although I love Asian food of all types (Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese - and of course, those of India, the land of my father) - but I can't stand Asian desserts. Excluding those pseudo-Asian dishes like fried banana with coconut ice cream that are standard and geared to Western tastes, Asian desserts seem to be an acquired taste that I just cannot seem to acquire. Is it just me?
As a child, and even teenager, I remember literally running away (or at least, slipping away) when it came time for dessert at my parents' Indian friends and relatives' dinner parties. Gulab jamun? Rasgulla? Barfi? No thanks! (But since most Indians think you are just being polite, they won't let you say no, hence the need to disappear before they try to talk you into "just a taste!")
Another time we were dining at a Japanese friend's house, and all was great until it came to the dessert: an "off-sweet" adzuki bean pudding, with a rice flour dumpling that my sisters and I swore expanded as you chewed it. Actually, since most Chinese and Japanese desserts are made with Adzuki beans and are either not sweet at all or super sweet to the point of cloying, I haven't yet been able to find one I can eat.
My (Indian) grandparents hated chocolate, so is it strictly cultural? (I was brought up in the US, but have spent a lot of time in India, so I am not sure why it is that I love the savories, but the sweets seem so alien...) Has anyone else had similar experiences?

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  1. Everyone has different tastes. There are a ton of people who like asian desserts, myself included, and I'm sure there are plenty who don't.

    If you don't like it and you've given it a fair chance, then there's nothing more you can do. If anything, you should be proud of yourself for being open-minded and trying most of this stuff. There still are a lot of people who still think "eww sweet beans!".

    Maybe you're making the mistake of lumping all asian desserts together. Think about how broad a classification "European desserts" would be. I'm sure there are some Asian desserts you like.

    1. Probably because they are more subtle in their sweetness factor, and some of them aren't even sweet at all (e.g. green tea mochi, black sesame, etc.)

      Most western desserts (note, I said "most") are sort of in-your-face sweet -- e.g. chocolate ganache, ice cream with apple pie, chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, etc.

      You were probably just more conditioned to desserts with a higher, more direct sweetness factor.

      5 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        Ipsedixit, it's a good theory, but the OP said that she also hated Indian sweets, the epitome of "higher, more direct sweetness factor".

        North American desserts are very different from Southeast Asian and Asian desserts. Sometimes it is hard to make the transition. Anyhow, it's not like we need to like more desserts! I'd be happy if there were a category of desserts I didn't like (sigh. Stupid diet)

        1. re: ipsedixit

          I'm going to have to go all EatNopal and disagree with you. Some asian desserts are less sweet, but many are very sweet. Indian desserts, in particular, have a reputation for being cloyingly sweet to those who aren't used to them. Some of the Chinese and Korean dessert liquids are basically sugary water. There are so many different kinds of asian desserts that it's difficult to make any broad statements about the category as a whole.

          1. re: Humbucker

            "Go all EatNopal." Priceless.

            I *think* EN would take this as a compliment...

          2. re: ipsedixit

            Agreed! After spending much time in Japan and China while in the Navy, I developed a great fondness for the small corner pastry shops that offered the "less sweet" pastries that I found incredible. Most desserts here in the US are by far way too sweet for me. Our dependence on sugar seems to be almost as bad as our dependence on foreign oil!

          3. I'm thankful for the orange slices or even fortune cookie when the alternative is that hot bean-barley "soup."

            1. I'm the same way. I don't hate them, but I don't particularly like them. I try not to eat desserts very often. But if I do, I'm certainly not going to waste them on those that I'm not crazy about. Indian desserts -- I find they're way too sweet for my taste unless you've got something like ras malai. The mochi and aduki bean thing -- it's OK, but I'd rather have other food. Asian interpretation of Western desserts -- kind of tastes artificial. The only thing I like is plain sponge cake served with plain jasmine tea.

              DH and I are both of Asian heritage born in America. Our preference lies in French desserts. My sister prefers Italian desserts. And we all love Asian food. So it's not just you.

              1. I've been thinking about this off and on for a while, and I think one big issue is differing conceptions of how to balance sweetness.

                In the Euro-American tradition (I am, of course, speaking in very general terms here) the sweetness is typically balanced with acidity (fruit, sour cream, lemon juice) or bitterness (coffee, chocolate -- both of which are also acidic, of course), or even in some cases salt (toffee). In some cases, the dessert may be unrelievedly sweet (e.g. baklava), but you traditionally drink coffee with it.

                The Indian desserts you mention (at least the versions I have tasted) don't seem to balance the sweetness in a way that suits my palate, so to me they taste sweet, yet bland. Same with the bean paste sweets I've had -- no balancing element, at least to my palate. So yes, I think part of it is probably cultural. One possible remedy might be to make sure you have coffee or tea to drink with your sweets.

                7 Replies
                1. re: jlafler

                  Really interesting theory, Jlafler. Perhaps that's why I like my steamed sponge cake (not very sweet) with unsweetened tea. Not intending to bash Asian desserts, but I've always thought that they tasted a bit one-dimensional to me.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    But...Miss Needle.... Hoe Ddok.... How can you not adore Hoe Ddok??? Especially when warm....

                    1. re: moh

                      Ok, Moh. You've got me there. Totally forgot about that. There aren't too many places where I can get them. Yeah, that stuff is pretty good -- kind of tastes like a Korean version an alfajore, though the caramel is made of beans. I'm a sucker for anything caramel.

                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        The Hoe Ddok that I get, the caramel is just made from heated brown sugar, and there are nuts in it. No beans that I can detect. I think you'd like that even better! (unfortunately, in TO not Montreal). But I have also had Hoe Ddok -like substances made with bean filling too.

                        1. re: moh

                          Oooh! I don't think I've had that one -- the caramel and nuts. I've got to search for it in NYC. I probably won't find it in Manhattan but perhaps some places in Flushing may have it.

                  2. re: jlafler

                    You're spot-on with regard to why many Asian desserts and sweets have flavor flatness! A lot of them don't have salt -- not enough to taste salty, but you know it's not there... that same sense of something being "off" with unsalted bread. I should sneak a packet of salt with me next time I go to a Chinese banquet and the inevitable bottomless cauldron of sweet red bean soup appears. If I had a philosopher's stone, I'd turn that soup into a nice bowl of chili.

                    1. re: jlafler

                      I like the idea of balance too, especially with balancing sweetness (of the dessert) with bitterness (strong coffee/tea), and then also cutting the richness (of the cream or butter) with, um, something lighter like fruit or just more strong coffee/tea.

                      So, then, the super sweet, rich and sticky slice of baklava would go best with a small cup of strong, unsweetened Greek coffee (as there is no point in having the dessert and the drink compete for sweetness).

                      One more element of balance that should also be important is quantity. The more rich and sugary the dessert, the smaller the serving should be. Those Indian honey balls (sorry I don't know the name), I love them but anything beyond two pieces my throat would start singeing from the sweetness. On the other hand, when it comes to the fluffy Chinese-style steamed cake that is "barely sweet" by Western standards, I could have a huge hunk of it without being overwhelmed by richness or sweetness, thus satisfying my craving for something I can sink my teeth into (or bury my face into). I can't really do that with a lot of Western-style cakes.

                      So, I agree a lot of Asian desserts are cloyingly sweet (Japanese okashi, Chinese mochi) or barely sweet (sponge cakes etc.) but it is just a matter of understanding how much of it and with what you're supposed to have.

                      I'd say, the more types of food you can enjoy, the more there is to enjoy!

                    2. I read an article in "Food and Wine" by Jennifer 8 Lee a couple of months ago where she discusses the Chinese view of desserts. By her own admission, Chinese desserts (other than just plain old fruit) aren't very good. Her argument is that in Chinese cooking, things must be done quickly. There is a constant action in the kitchen. Everything is done on the stovetop. Ovens are useless. She also said that many of her relatives have a mistrust of butter. I suppose if you're not raised in a culture with butter, it can seem sort of gross. In a culture where nothing is baked, and there is no butter (how can you have dessert without BUTTER?), I can see how it would be hard for an American to enjoy traditional Chinese desserts.

                      That doesn't explain India though, which uses both butter and ovens. Then again, ghee may be traditional in the main course, but does it get used in desserts? I admit to ignorance on Asian cuisine, particularly Indian. I haven't really tried any authentic Indian desserts to know.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Avalondaughter

                        Not an expert on Indian desserts but I'll give you my take. Aside from a tandoor oven, I don't really see too much Indian food cooked in an oven. There is the dumphkhat (sp) that looks like it's cooked in an oven, though. A lot of Indian desserts are generally fried or cooked on a stovetop. They are very, very sweet and ghee is used at times. Many are also dairy based. I noticed that most Westerners tend to like gulab jamun which are fried milk balls (kind of like doughnut holes) served in a rosewater scented syrup. The balls are immersed in the really sweet syrup, saturating it. I think it's the extreme sweetness that bothers me. What Jlafler says is true -- there's usually no acid or bitterness to counteract the sweetness.

                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          I have had gulab jamun at my local Indian restaurant. I didn't know how authentic they were. It's true that my husband and I love them. They're like round pancakes. My husband likes them more than I do though because he is less senstivie to the extreme sweetness of the syrup.

                          True that I've never seen anything baked in an oven other than tandoori, but I guess my point was that in India there isn't so much opposition to the concept of roasting something.

                            1. re: Avalondaughter

                              Kheer, anyone? I don't care for traditional Indian sweets as I find them too sweet, but making one's own kheer where one can control the sweetness? Food of the Gods!
                              I think if one looks enough, one can find one or two desserts that are to one's taste?

                              1. re: freia

                                Maybe similar, but I love rasmalai. Most rasgullas are too sweet. The malai adds the perfect sweetness and creaminess, akin to kheer. In fact, when I make rasgullas or gulab jamons, I skip the 2nd sugar soaking and go with a less sweetened 1st simple sugar bath.

                          1. re: Avalondaughter

                            There are many styles of chinese cooking. afterall the country is huge and fast cooking method only applies to a handful of cooking techniques used. long cooking time is actually very prevalent in chinese food though not very often seen outside china.(think any kind of "old-fire" soup, abalone, offal or tough cuts of meat) Jennifer Lee probably refers to mostly cantonese cooking, which counts for about 1/8 of all major cooking styles in china. and even in cantonese cooking, food with long cooking time is equally common as high heat saute. ovens are indeed less used in common homes. historically they can be found in rich people's house or food establishments. all cantonese barbeque comes out of a oven. and dishes like this had been around for quite some time.
                            as far as the use of milk goes, in chinese culture, this is one food group that's almost non-existant(read McGee's On food and Cooking) because of the chinese agriculture. desert though, can be found in all cooking styles of china. however, most of the chinese deserts we see today is what is commonly refer to as peasant's desert back in the day. the rich households often host extravagant parties and deserts can be as beautifully done as savory dishes themselves.(read about desert recipes in Tiao Ding Lu, a collection of recipes by private cooks of the riches in the tsing and ming dynasties) the common man usually do not have luxury to play with sugar, and the idea of desert usually comes as a item for celebrations. with the communist party rule, most of these private cooks catering to the riches were considered wasteful and fascist and therefore either killed or sent through hard labor. the rich people were considered "enemies of the labor class", and usually killed. with the demand and supply gone. what's left of the chinese desert is what we see today. mostly somewhat crude construction of common ingridients, with little of the "extravagance" remain.

                            1. re: Avalondaughter

                              I don't think it's so much that Chinese desserts are not "very good". I think it's probably better to just say that here's a different ideal for what is a good dessert in Chinese culture. They are generally *much* less sweet and rich than Western desserts, and I think this is the main reason that many people from other cultures don't like them, especially if they didn't grow up in that culture. I think the idea for the things served at the end of a large meal (like soups featuring red (aduki) bean, or mung bean), may be something which help digest the meal, and close things off with a (gently) sweet flavor.

                              As with savory foods, texture is also often very important in Chinese desserts; many are on the chewy, dry, or glutinous side. These attributes may not be attractive to many Americans or Westerners, but I think learning to appreciate these tastes and textures is worthwhile. I think the juxtoposition of ingredients we normally don't associate with dessert (beans, gingko nuts, pine nuts, olives, meat "floss") can also be confusing to people who didn't grow up in that culture.

                              You say "by her own admission" as if this proves that even Chinese people think that Chinese desserts are bad. But, a) Lee was born in the US, and b) she is only one person, so I don't think she's in a position to speak for 1.3 billion ethnic Chinese worldwide. My in-laws are Chinese, and for the most part, they enjoy Chinese desserts quite a bit, but find most Western desserts *way* too sweet. (I'm not really buying the "must be done quickly" theory either).

                              These days, despite widespread lactose intolerance among Asians, I think butter is used quite a bit in Chinese breads and pastries, due to the influence from HK. Go to any bakery in mainland China, or in Chinese areas in the US, and you'll see that almost everything has milk, eggs, and butter in it. There are often more savory pastries than you might find at a shop in the US, and the breads tend to be much more sweet and buttery than they'd be in the US. I have had it in flaky pastries like wife cakes as well, especially at Taiwanese or HK run shops. A lot of recipes for (sweet) niangao also call for butter or milk, even if they wouldn't have been used for it traditionally. Domestic or imported butter cookies / shortbread are also popular for snacking and gifts, though not usually eaten after meals.

                              Whether baked or steamed (I think they're typically baked, but I could be wrong), I think it's hard to say that Chinese style birthday cakes (with custard inside, creamy frosting and glazed fruit outside, and an eggy sponge-cake style cake) are not rich and decadent. The flavors and level of sweetness are definitely Chinese, though of course the style of cake itself is influenced by the West. And mooncakes, even the ones without egg yolks, are almost impossibly rich and filling. But for the most part, these are things for special occasions, not for everyday eating.

                              I think SE Asia has some really interesting desserts, often a bit sweeter than Chinese desserts, often with some richness coming from coconut milk.

                            2. I love yokan (and green more than brown), but it probably has a taste you need to grow up with to appreciate.

                              I love Thai desserts where there are 25 ingredients and you pick a few. "Funny" textures and varied colors.

                              Other Asian desserts? Kind of agree with Mort.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                Yokan -- oh, that brings up memories. My very well-intentioned parents threw me my 8th B-day party at McDonalds. The guest list only had one Asian child aside from me. They put together a party bag full of yokan and other Japanese treats for the kids. The kids were in horror as they tasted the stuff (and the Asian kid didn't like either). The only thing they liked was Pocky. Of course, my parents thought they were doing good by me as these Japanese treats were a lot more expensive than Snickers and the like. But I was so embarrassed!

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  I'm glad you mentioned textures, Sam.

                                  Chinese cooking values a variety of textures more than Western cuisines. A lot of Chinese and other Asian desserts have textures that don't meet the "strong psychological component in the enjoyment of dessert" (as moh described it, below) for Westerners. Westerners have a strong preferrence for soft, luxurious mouthfeel in desserts, while many Asian desserts have textures that Westerners don't associate positively with dessert.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Actually, I'm not much of a dessert person. I make pies and ice creams depending on fruits available. But I love those Thai night market dessert stands. I like a bit of chewy, a bit of some of the little round bits, something wiggly, some of the neon colored stuff (shiny black,neon green), and so on. Over the years, I've been able to eliminate the too sweet items; but there are so many to select from that one never has to eat the same dessert twice.

                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      Oh, I love "che" too. But a lot of people would find them too weird. Or not really satisfying as dessert.

                                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Ruth, you mention the soft luxurious mouthfeel of Western desserts. I think that is very true, I really love this mouthfeel. Yet interestingly, I consider Tofu fa to have the same silky mouthfeel, but I think it is still hard for people to get used to it. (Tofu fa is the soft tofu dessert served with ginger syrup at Dim sum).

                                      1. re: moh

                                        I love tofu fa! I think most people who object to it either don't like the slightly metallic soy flavor or just don't like the *idea* of tofu. Because texturally it's very similar to a firm custard.

                                      2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        I was going to mention the texture as the main issue but you beat me to it. ;-)

                                        Most Asian sweets I've had seem to have the same textural sense as their main dishes. It makes them seem less like dessert and more like an addition to the main meal which happens to be sweeter than the other dishes. That being said, I do like some Japanese sweets, though not the really red bean ones (white beans, I love) and really good, fresh mochi with good fillings. Mass produced mochi is pretty disgusting.

                                      3. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        I grew up with yokan (and kanten) and I won't willingly touch the stuff today.

                                      4. I really like Jlafler's theory about balance of flavours. I find that I can eat a lot of Western style desserts, whereas I can only have so much Asian dessert at one time. And this from someone who quite likes a lot of Asian desserts. But I do feel there is a huge cultural influence as well. Desserts are not about nourishment, they are about celebration, or comfort, or desire. There is a strong psychological component in the enjoyment of dessert. If you grew up associating sweet mochi filled with red bean with special events like New Year's, your enjoyment of that item is directly linked to your experience of celebration. You aren't just tasting your dessert, you are reliving memories of New Year's celebration past. Similarly, if you eat chocolate to comfort yourself after a bad breakup, it isn't just chocolate flavour, it is a sense of "well, that jerk may be gone, but chocolate will always be there for me, and frankly, it's waaay better." So yes, I think there is a strong cultural/sociological component. Morticia and Miss Needle and I and many others are talking from a North American point of view. So even if we are first or second generation North Americans, we have assimilated the dessert tastes of our dominant culture.

                                        I must add that there is something addictive about chocolate. One of the downsides of Asian desserts for me is that there is very little chocolate...

                                        21 Replies
                                        1. re: moh

                                          True. When it was celebration time, I had a Western style cake -- no fluffy Chinese cake or mochi or hunks of carrot halvah. It was a layer cake with frosting and chocolate chip cookies that I first learned to love.

                                          1. re: Miss Needle

                                            Growing up "western", I hated the ubiquitous chocolate cakes, lamingtons, pav's, sponges.

                                            It all just tasted naaaaaasty to me. (I am a more savoury kinda gal)

                                            But then I was introduced to the wonders of red bean pastes, and thai sweet rice, pan dan and gulabs.

                                            **insert sounds of heavenly choir**

                                            I found (and still do) they are much more complex.. their sweetness has a different note from the chockie sponges of my childhood.

                                            1. re: purple goddess

                                              Ah! You must have been Asian in a former life.

                                              1. re: Miss Needle


                                                The ONLY time you'll find me oooh-ing and aaah-ing over sweets, is at yum cha.

                                                Darn tarts!! That weird coconut jelly stuff, those three-coloured lumps of jelly!! sweet tofu and honey syrup, ANYTHING with red bean paste, lotus dumplings...

                                                I could go on and on.

                                                1. re: purple goddess

                                                  Ooooh yes! They have glorious desserts at yum-cha. Hong-Kong Chinese desserts are much yummier than traditional chinese ones, probably because of the western influence.
                                                  And I adore that fluffy chinese sponge cake. It's just sweet enough to be good and not gooed up with overly-sweet icing. Our friends are from Hong Kong and one year they bought me a lovely birthday cake from a Hong Kong-style bakery. It was perfect!

                                              2. re: purple goddess

                                                I hope I am not intruding into this conversation.

                                                You sound a lot like me. I love to bake western desserts but when I want something sweet it is a red bean or a green tea cake that I crave because most western desserts are too heavy and too sweet for me. My daughter however loves cakes pies and tarts so I take her to a Italian bakery for something sweet but then we stop by the Asian market or bakery for myself.

                                                Ive noticed in the Asian bakery that it is westerners who tend to buy the eastern desserts while the Asian clientèle want cakes and pies. It seems that it might be a situation of the grass might be greener on the other side.

                                            2. re: moh

                                              yup I associate mochi and rice cakes with celebrations/funerals.

                                              I also love the korean take on western desserts. It's nice to bite into something that isn't cloyingly sweet and tastes so damn good. mmmm love me some korean madeleines and cream puffs

                                              1. re: bitsubeats

                                                Korean Madeleines? Hmmm, I haven't tried those....

                                                My parents have gotten me into this Green Tea sponge cake thing they buy in Korean grocery stores. I think it might be a Chinese product though. It is oddly satisfying.

                                                1. re: moh

                                                  My mom gets these pandan cakes that are green and have an interesting flavor. Made from pandan leaf. Is it Thai?? They're alright, but my favorite is the banana cake. The Asian store has several kinds of these in single slices, which is great for sampling.

                                                  1. re: juster

                                                    I think the pandan cake is similar to but not the same as the Green tea cake I am referring to. The green tea cake is made with Matcha. But the colour and appearance certainly resembles the photos of some of the pandan cake photos I saw on the Web.

                                                    1. re: juster

                                                      I think the Thai and the Vietnamese use pandan for their desserts, which I love. In fact I really like all the green, herbal elements the various Asian desserts tend to include, which add extra depth and an element of bitterness to the flavour, as well an interesting colour. And of course they generally have some beneficial health properties if you buy into that kind of idea.

                                                      Some more green herbs that I like. In addition to matcha, the Japanese use mugwort in their mochi, and the Chinese use something called common rue herb (see picture) to complement their green bean porridge desserts.

                                                      1. re: tarteaucitron

                                                        Pandan leaves are basically an asian "vanilla" or "vanilla extract". It is commonly used in deserts, but not exclusively.

                                                      2. re: juster

                                                        I've had a gelatinous pandan cake slice in Kuala Lumpur, which was the color of the pandanus leaf. I've also had it in kaya jam...way too often. Banana pandan cake? That sounds nice.

                                                      3. re: moh

                                                        its basically just a madeleine made by a korean person ): ahah so yeah i call them korean madeleines.

                                                        i love that green tea sponge cake thingy. I remember when my sister and I were little we used to go to the korean store at the corner (in korea of course) and buy a cream roll for us to share. We ate the whole thing by ourselves and yes we loved the little plastic knife that came with it

                                                        1. re: bitsubeats

                                                          So are you guys talking about an actual green tea one, cuz I have only seen the pandan one in that jelly roll style. Usually they also have a mocha one.

                                                          1. re: torty

                                                            Koreans don't eat pandan. It's more of a SEA thing. But I really like pandan and can see the merit of a pandan jelly roll.

                                                            1. re: torty

                                                              its green tea and I believe there is a yomogi (mugwort) one

                                                              1. re: bitsubeats

                                                                Do you like the mugwort flavored stuff? I'm not a fan, but I know so many Koreans who die for it. Not sure if they really like it or they like it because of health benefits.

                                                                1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                  If I could count the number of times my mother bugged me to eat something for the health benefits... Koreans love their traditional medicines! I don't understand how something like a dessert could be associated with health benefits, yet that isn't unheard of in Asian culture.

                                                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                    i love it, although my mom made some "old fashioned" mugwort thing the other day. She tossed some freshly picked mugwort in some rice flour and steamed it. It was WAY too much mugwort flavor.

                                                                    1. re: bitsubeats

                                                                      Oh the Chinese have something called turtle jelly, served slightly sweet (and very bitter) as "dessert"... one of the most atrocious things I've ever tasted.

                                                      4. I'm with you on this. Almond cookies and fruit are about the only things I can stomach. Red bean soup is horrid, and I just can't get into almond jelly and the like. And Western desserts are so varied - cakes and cookies, pies and pastries, crisps, bumbles, and brown betties, trifles and parfaits, and, of course, ice cream. I love Asian food for starters, mains, and sides, but I come home for dessert.

                                                        7 Replies
                                                        1. re: KevinB

                                                          There's actually a huge variety of Asian desserts, beyond red bean soup and almond jelly -- probably a lot more than Western desserts. And Asians have their own interpretations of Western desserts. Ever tried a Japanese/Chinese take on cheesecake? Much lighter than the Western counterpart. But I agree with you that I love Asian food for everything except dessert.

                                                          1. re: Miss Needle

                                                            This is fascinating to me. I have never been a huge Chinese dessert fan either, other than the mashed taro dessert that is from my parent's home of Fukien and the sesame paste balls. (Mashed taro is made with lard and lots of sugar and plums etc.) Most Chinese desserts are unmemorable.

                                                            BUT< when the french pastries and cakes came to Asia, it got completely remade. I have always found Chinese bakery versions of the western cakes much more appetizing than the originals. Part of my problem with American cakes is the sugar frosting that is preferred here. And now that everyone has gone fondant crazy, I can't stand cakes anymore. The Chinese bakeries usually stays with the fresh creamy frostings that are much richer and much much better.

                                                            1. re: Phaedrus

                                                              Yeah, I remember reading a thread somewhere where a lot of people preferred getting their office cakes from Chinese bakeries as opposed to Western ones because they were lighter. To me, they just don't taste right. I think one reason is they don't use butter in cakes. And their cream frostings reminds me of flavored cool whip. But I guess everybody has their preferences.

                                                              I prefer French desserts over American ones because I find French desserts to be lighter and not as sugar-sweet. Yes, Americans do love their sugar. I'm hoping the fondant trend will go away soon. If I had a choice between a Chinese bakery cake and a fondant covered cake, I'd also probably would have to go with the Chinese one.

                                                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                actually, that stuff probably is flavored cool whip. i've seen recipes for it that calls for beating together soft-set jello with cool whip. it's more a Chinese (Chinese American?) bastardization of a European dessert than anything else.

                                                                1. re: cimui

                                                                  Guess I'm not crazy. I always thought I was weird for thinking that thing tasted like Cool Whip, especially when I see so many people loving those cakes. I've always hated Cool Whip, even as a kid.

                                                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                    I don't know what you all are eating, but the Chinese bakeries I go to makes fatty, rich, mouth feel satisfying creamy frostings. Not whipped cream, not cool whip.

                                                                    1. re: Phaedrus

                                                                      That's the other kind you commonly see, Phaedrus. One's the cool whip stuff, the other is basically whipped butter with sugar added. (I'm exaggerating, but only by about two ingredients.) I've hated that stuff ever since my mother made it for me, for my birthday one year when I was a kid, and I ate myself sick.

                                                        2. I just skimmed this post and found this an interesting topic. being Asian, I felt compelled to post my thoughts. :)

                                                          I think as someone mentioned, it's an acquired thing. I grew up eating Japanese sweets, so I like most of them, but even I don't like certain ones like yokan, and there is another one that tastes like hardened powdered sugar-- I think it's called rakugan or something like that. But I love chosen-ame (as they call it), kawadori moch-- pretty much anything with mochi, although I have to be in the mood for anko (azuki beans), and it has to be not-too-cloyingly sweet. Also, I feel like 90 percent of the Japanized version of western desserts (Castella, and various pastries) are better (=less sweet) than the American counterparts. I also like Japanese dagashi, but I haven't been eating much of them in the past 2 years, b/c I think they still use trans fats and shortening, so there goes most of Japanese "westernized" desserts for me.

                                                          But again, it's just a personal thing. I find most American desserts too sweet. Frosting is disgusting. But I love almost anything chocolate. . .

                                                          However, even I who grew up with these above aforementioned desserts, also have a bunch of dislikes, and as I mentioned, with red bean, it has to be in the right sweetness and I have to be in the mood to want it, or it'll just be meh. And then I'm sure this is my imagination, but even though it's the same red bean, the Chinese and Korean versions both taste slightly different to me, and I tend to have the same problem of not liking all of them all the time.

                                                          I tend to not like most Chinese desserts--or the ones I'm familiar with from dim sum, b/c they are fried. (Sesame balls, etc.)

                                                          As for Indian desserts, I have the same problem with them being too sweet and often too rich and creamy/buttery, etc. The one exception is kir, which is a much more aromatic version of rice pudding, but again, in most Indian restaurants, they make it too sweet. I love some homemade versions though and I've started "Indian-izing" my desserts by adding cardamom to everything. :)

                                                          Now with SE Asian desserts, I'm very fond of Mango, so I'm starting to get into the sticky rice mango dessert.

                                                          I do find, though that although I'm more adventurous with savory, for sweet stuff, I will try most things, but I tend to not like most "unfamiliar" desserts, or have a preference for my chocolate mousses, cakes, cookies, and Japanese mochi with kinako.

                                                          I have an unscientific theory that maybe our sweet tastebuds don't evolve as much as our savory ones so we have a harder time adjusting to new tastes? It's like comfort food-- those who didn't grow up on rice porridge won't consider it "comfort food" when they are sick, but for me, it's the first thing I crave when I'm sick and can't think of anything else I want to eat.

                                                          10 Replies
                                                          1. re: anzu

                                                            If you like Indianizing (love that word) your desserts, you may want to look at Scandinavian desserts as cardamom is used a lot. You bring up some interesting points. Totally forgot about castella. I also like castella because it's not too sweet. And the aromatic quality (I'm assuming from the basmati and the rosewater) of kheer breaks up some of the heaviness of all the dairy. And I don't find kheer as sweet as some of the other Indian desserts. So while I don't jump up and down when I see kheer, I don't mind it as much. And I like mango with sticky rice -- I think because there's a savory component to it. Helps to balance out the sweetness. And it's not just you -- I also think there's a difference in red bean between the Chinese and Korean versions. The Korean version tastes more like the Japanese version. Can't describe what the difference is though. A friend of mine who is Korean (not Korean-American) insists the Korean version of everything is better. I find that a lot of Koreans like to say that. Ha! It cracks me up.

                                                            1. re: Miss Needle

                                                              Ooh. Thanks for that tip. :) Yeah, I do agree that the Korean one does taste more similar to the Japanese version. Except for sushi, which one of my Korean friends said in their version, they put just a touch of sesame oil. They call it "bringing out a slight toasty aroma and making it better". I call it sushi-bastardization, which of course is in jest to their "making it better" claim, but I do like my sushi to stay far away from any oil other than that found naturally in the fish. Like when these white people take home leftovers and put their leftover sushi next to tempura. . .it makes me cringe. I'm typically Japanese that way, though I have to say I'm far less segregationist than my parents who insist on a different plate for just about every different food. (Sashimi, ohitashi, gyoza, etc.) Time to end my post, since it's getting off-topic.

                                                              1. re: anzu

                                                                i love me some sesame oil in my korean sushi roll (kimbap) but it can be over powering. Not to stray too off topic, but have you ever had sushi with a shiso leaf rolled in with the seaweed? My mom does this and holy moly does it taste delicious.

                                                                I didnt know that chinese at red beans like the Koreans and japanese do. Is it sweeter?

                                                                1. re: bitsubeats

                                                                  Ha ha. I am a shiso fiend, especially when it comes to sushi. This might be the last comment I can make before the chowpolice catch us, but I think it makes sushi delicious. I esp. like it w/ saba-sushi.

                                                                  The Chinese red bean--I honestly haven't had it in a while, so I'd probably have to try it and get back to you, but I think it is sweeter. Or maybe they add other things to it. When we made it at home, all my mom did was add water and sugar and a small bit of salt. Also, most of the chinese ones tend to be paste, whereas I like the beans intact. So it's taste and texture.

                                                                  1. re: anzu

                                                                    In Chinese sweets, red bean paste is most common, but the Koreans and Japanese will use paste, whole beans or a mix. I don't think there is too much difference between Chinese, Korean and Japanese red bean pastes because within each cuisine you will find a variety of consistencies and sweetnesses.

                                                                    1. re: Humbucker

                                                                      I don't know if it's just a texture difference. I detect lardy tastes in the Chinese bean paste. Perhaps it's coming from the bun that sometimes comes with it, but I've tasted that stuff in the chinese mochi as well.

                                                                      1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                        I think it depends on the recipe. For instance, the bean paste in moon cake is much different than the bean paste you find in a steamed red bean bun. Also, different bakeries/restaurants have use different recipes or ready made bean pastes.

                                                                        1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                          You're right on about the lard. The recipes for red bean filling for Chinese mooncakes and other pastries do traditionally call for lard, or vegetable oil for updated, "healthier" versions. I believe some recipes even require browning the paste to add more flavour.

                                                                          The Japanese versions are typically nothing but the beans, sugar and water, so they tend to have a cleaner, but sweeter taste. Texture-wise, they also distinguish between pastes that leave some beans intact, and those that are more smooth.

                                                                  2. re: anzu

                                                                    I only like sesame oil and gochujang on my raw fish if it's not pristine. Hwe dup bap is really good. Sorry to say but the quality of raw fish I get at Korean restaurants in the States is not as high quality as what I get at Japanese sushi restaurants (Daikichi Sushi and the bargain Japanese sushi joints run by Chinese do not count). I think that's why a lot of Koreans use stuff to cover it up or "enhance" it as some would say.

                                                                2. re: anzu

                                                                  I grew up in Texas and I have to say I hated desserts - I mean most people who don't have a lot of money and didn't get to eat out at restaurants often grew up eating cakes etc from boxes, grocery store birthday cakes, cakes/pies/cobblers/etc from family, etc. It was gross - over sweet, bad texture, often bland and yeah I had a very unadventurous family. Until I was in college I had no idea there was more then 7 cookie flavors or types. I liked one cake from my Grandma, her German Chocolate and I liked her blackberry cobbler. That was it. Anything else, made by anyone else, pass.

                                                                  Then I spent over a year in Japan, and some months in China, and I learned to like more desserts. I agree with @anzu that Japanese make Western desserts BETTER! It doesn't make you want to hurry and drink that over sweetness down, texture were better to me, and the Japanese flavors (matcha, chestnut, yam, adzuki etc) I adored. I came back to the states, graduated, could afford to begin being a foodie, tried more and made my own desserts.

                                                                  I must admit my favorite is fresh hot mitarashi dango. I enjoy Indian rice pudding - but I prefer my own take I stole from a restaurant that adds nuts to it and only medium sweetness. I love the texture of mochi, but like anzu I abhor the "hardened powdered sugar" ones, and I only like kinako in small amounts.

                                                                  <3 this topic, we should share recipes!

                                                                3. I just feel compelled to list my favorite chinese desserts (in no particular order):

                                                                  1. Egg custard tarts
                                                                  2. Taro cakes (or basically anything with taro)
                                                                  3. Grass Jelly
                                                                  4. Tapioca pudding
                                                                  5. Sugar rice cakes
                                                                  6. Red bean filled rice balls (or "tang-yuan")

                                                                  12 Replies
                                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                    my faves in no order:
                                                                    1. egg tarts
                                                                    2. deep fried sesame rice balls
                                                                    3. red bean soup (when they use the glutinous black rice, dried tangerine peel and lotus nuts - some variations are downright gross)
                                                                    4. coconut tapioca soup or sweet chestnut soup
                                                                    5. fresh cream and fresh fruit cake

                                                                    1. re: chocabot

                                                                      all of these are excellent examples of chinese deserts. though the egg tart is debatable because of it's hong kong origins with british occupancies. way to represent.

                                                                      1. re: trymonlam

                                                                        I always thought egg tarts were an offshoot of the Portuguese pasteis de natas, from the Portuguese occupation of Macao.

                                                                        1. re: limster

                                                                          I think you're right. Brazil has those egg tarts as well. I prefer the Portuguese ones -- they taste eggier, if that makes sense.

                                                                          1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                            The Portuguese pasteis de natas are not only eggier, but much more creamy and rich as well. I also love the burnt top, and the wonderful caramelization of the custard at the edges of the burnt top. I find them much more complex than the Chinese versions.

                                                                            1. re: moh

                                                                              Yeah, they're good. I've noticed that some of the Chinese bakeries sell the Portuguese style at 10 cents more than the regular ones. Highly worth the extra cost.

                                                                          2. re: limster

                                                                            Yes I agree that the Portuguese added this dessert item to the China. In fact I finally had one in Macao recently hot from the oven. The best part I did not have to look around to keep Chow Fun from stealing it.

                                                                            The light coconut milk was a great addition.

                                                                            1. re: limster

                                                                              i grew up in guangzhou and hong kong. egg tart could have been a Portuguese thing in the start, but it seemed like a hong kong thing over the years. when we say "egg tart", we refer to the hong kong style that u can typically get in dim sum places here in the states. the richer ones with carmelization burn on top is called "portuguese style eggtart" or "macau style".

                                                                          3. re: chocabot

                                                                            Making a list surprises me:

                                                                            1. Frozen mochi heated in a dry pan to the point that it is absolutely molten lava inside and toasty to burnt on the outside. Eat dipping into a sugar and shoyu mix, trying to avoid third degree burns inside of the mouth
                                                                            2. My mom's cream puffs (now a fond memory)
                                                                            3. Yokan
                                                                            4. Fruit pies and tarts (mine)
                                                                            5. Home-made ice creams and ices (mine)
                                                                            6. Thai desserts where you choose the combo of niblets.

                                                                            I find that I'm either not that fond of either eastern or western; or a bit fond of both. Didn't know that.

                                                                          4. re: ipsedixit

                                                                            Adding on because I like most of this list (except the grass jelly which I've never liked):

                                                                            those round deep fried sesame cookies--I think they're called smiling mouth or happy mouth cookies...cookies, deep fried, need I say more?

                                                                            red bean paste in flakey pastry
                                                                            sponge cake
                                                                            sweet peanut soup AND that sweet peanut butter soup
                                                                            yokan and mochi as mentioned above

                                                                            I'll say, though, as much as I like these desserts, I prefer Western desserts. I rarely make asian desserts but only have them when out.

                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                              Yeah, sweet peanut soup mixed with "shing-run tofu" or "tofu-hwa" is a fabulous treat.

                                                                              And sponge cake with red bean paste is a wonderfully light and rich dessert.

                                                                              Deep-fried sesame cookies? Just about anything deep-fried is good, or better than something non deep-fried. :-)

                                                                            2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                              I never made a dessert list, *grins* let's see:
                                                                              - Mochi, fresh not frozen kind. like mitarashi dango
                                                                              - Fruit! oh fruit can done so well for desserts
                                                                              - Koshian bean paste
                                                                              - panna cotta (first had it in Japan)
                                                                              - chocolate - must be liquid hot in a cake or dipped with fruit
                                                                              - boba with jasmine tea
                                                                              - Japanese Parfaits - which often include corn flakes (LOVE texture), jello, mochi, soy, fruit, etc

                                                                              Oooh makes me the parfait place in Hep 5 in Osaka.... Xb


                                                                            3. Superimposing the word "dessert" onto sweet-ish Chinese food items, at least, doesn't always work. Lots of these types of dishes are actually meant to be eaten as breakfast or another meal -- so oftentimes they're not all that sugary. For instance, very lightly sweetened soup (mung bean or barley or the like) was always served to me at breakfast, not after dinner.

                                                                              And I do think it's very much cultural, since my Chinese relatives dislike many American desserts. Cake with icing in the US still tastes horrifically and inedibly sweet to my mother, though she's lived in here for more than 20 years. We grew up thinking of sweetened yogurt that you buy in the store as dessert.

                                                                              That said, I agree that there are a lot of nasty 'Asian desserts' out there: the dreaded moon cake, most Chinese renditions of European desserts (overly eggy / spongy cake with 1/3 the sugar of a normal cake, with weird icing that tastes like butter with some sugar added), "eight treasure rice", fortune cookies, that horrible 10-layer multi-colored Jello I saw at every dinner party growing up ... bleah!

                                                                              There are, of course, redeeming examples, though:

                                                                              * green bean 'cakes'. I don't remember what English-language name these are marketed as, but they're basically pressed, small cookie-like things made out of mung bean flour, powdery when crumbled. They're soft and aromatic (some have just a delicate tinge of sesame ... so lovely).

                                                                              * "peanut crumble" (soft, very flakey things made out of peanut powder... like the inside of a Butterfinger except much softer and it doesn't stick to your teeth like the inside of a Butterfinger.) There's a Goan, Indian dessert that's very similar.

                                                                              * sun cakes (tai yang bing) -- they're round, white, with a red dot in the middle, and layers upon layers of incredibly thin pastry with honey, much like baklava

                                                                              * mango lassi... how can you not love mango lassi?

                                                                              * fruit of course! possibly the most authentically desserty of Chinese desserts. my grandparents always dig into some when there's company around. (lychee, melon, grapes, papaya, rambutan, persimmon... mm..................)

                                                                              I think all of these are actually pretty hard not to like. The first three are harder to find -- at least in NYC -- but do give them a try before you decide categorically that you hate Chinese desserts.

                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                              1. re: cimui

                                                                                Oh, sh*t ... I love those "peanut crumble" candy things. They go great with a large cup of cold Chinese soy milk.

                                                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                  You know where it's at. :) I also love it with jasmine tea.

                                                                                2. re: cimui

                                                                                  Thanks for bringing up the important point that a lot of the Chinese (or Asian) sweet snacks do not really count as "dessert", in that one do not usually have them at the end of the meal. They are really more for breakfast or as a snack any time of the day.

                                                                                  So many kinds to love!

                                                                                3. I guess I was Asian in another life too. I'd usually rather have an Asian dessert rather than a piece of cake or something chocolate. I can do without any of those sweet soups and most of the things involving beans, but here's a few I absolutely love:
                                                                                  1) sticky rice and mango
                                                                                  2) Other Thai desserts especially taro custard and things with corn, Thai coconut ice cream
                                                                                  3) Anything green tea flavored -- mousse cake, ice cream, Kit Kat bar, etc.
                                                                                  4) Hawaiian shave ice with li hing mui powder, adzuki beans and ice cream
                                                                                  5) Chinese puddings/jellies -- mango, jasmine tea, coffee, etc.
                                                                                  6) coffee jello with cream
                                                                                  7) barfi, rasmallah, kulfi -- anything milky and not too cloyingly sweet
                                                                                  8) boba slushes with milk tea or jasmine tea or green tea

                                                                                  We are so lucky to be able to get great versions of all of these in L.A.!

                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: Chowpatty

                                                                                    Wow, coffee Jell-o with cream actually sounds pretty good (or at least interesting). What ethnicity is it? Don't think I've come across it, before.

                                                                                    1. re: cimui

                                                                                      The one I've seen is Japanese. Very mild coffee flavor with a small cream container.

                                                                                      1. re: hannaone

                                                                                        It's definitely popular in Japan, but I've also seen it in Chinese places. I'm not sure if it's eaten with the cream like in Japan, though.

                                                                                        1. re: Chowpatty

                                                                                          I've had coffee jell-o in my boba drinks before. Coffee jell-o cubues instead of tapioca balls.

                                                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                            Ummm that is so good, I've had that too, although it was some time ago, I need to go to a good boba place soon.

                                                                                  2. I tend to not like them either. The one thing I can't take is the concept of beans in dessert. A lot of Asian desserts tend to have a real beany texture to them whether they have beans or not. I'd have to say they really pale in comparison to western desserts. I don't know any Asians who love Asian desserts the same way Westerners love their desserts.

                                                                                    1. I generally like asian desserts, what I can't stand are the candies. Oh those little gross things, especially certain chinese candies, no offense it's just like eating hardened wasabi, ugh.

                                                                                      7 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: b0ardkn0t

                                                                                        yeah i've had some horrid sour plum candies from that chinese candy store chain (with the japanese name......cant remember it right now). I dont know why but I spent like $20 bucks on CRAP. I ended up giving it all away to this really nice Chinese woman who works with my father. thank goodness she loved it all.

                                                                                        I remember distinctly having one that tasted a lot like honey flavored mothballs

                                                                                        1. re: bitsubeats

                                                                                          lol. me too! and my dad would bring them home all the time.

                                                                                          1. re: b0ardkn0t

                                                                                            I remember growing with that stuff. It is de rigeur to have a lot of it available for New Years visiting, i.e. you go visit family and close friend to wish them a happy new year. I always thought they were buying us off with the red envelopes just because we had to eat that stuff.

                                                                                          2. re: bitsubeats

                                                                                            Just bought a hard candy with a salted plum embedded into the candy. When you eat the candy, you get really sweet candy flavour mixed with extremely salty and sour plum. It is interesting, but I am glad I only bought 5 of them. I don't think I'll crave them when I am done. Partly what disturbs me about this candy is that there is this knob of bumpy plum in the middle of this smooth hard candy (it juts out from the candy). The mouthfeel is confusing.

                                                                                            1. re: moh

                                                                                              I really like Chinese sour plums (both the dried and "wet" varieties). Don't really care for the ones encased in a candy hard-shell, however.

                                                                                              Do people consider these salted plums "candy" and/or desserts?

                                                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                These particular candies are definitely candy. The hard candy is very sweet and a significant part of the whole thing. I think they are going for the sweet/salty/sour combination thing, kind of like sour jelly babies and caramel with salt.

                                                                                          3. Man I thought I was the only one! Being vietnamese myself, I absolutely hated vietnamese desserts. I don't know what it was. Perhaps it was the fact that vietnamese desserts had conventionally "savory" ingredients prepared as a sweet dessert (many Asians use beans for dessert, something which I never got). And the "sweet" wasn't even conventional either, it was always some strange flavor I couldn't identify.

                                                                                            I guess growing up in the high fructose laden world of America I preferred fruity, processed, creamy sweet desserts instead.

                                                                                            1. Oh lord, me too!

                                                                                              I've been to India twice, Japan, Thailand lots, China, Tibet blah blah blah you get the picture. I have tried to give the desserts a chance, hoping that in the country of origin, so to speak, things will taste better.

                                                                                              Nope. Mouth-feel is off, super sweet sugar liquid, taste, it all just leaves me dead. And I love the rest of the meal! I like some of the explanations posted here, but in the end makes no difference. I just go "Ick!"

                                                                                              Helps keep the weight off!

                                                                                              1. Chocolate is a bean too. Lots of people scratching their head about "beans" (aka savory food) being in Asian food, but coffee and chocolate are beans too.

                                                                                                Really love grass jelly, almond jello, egg tarts, yokan, and especially mooncakes! I'm Asian American and can't really digest milky, creamy things. So i'd rather have beans mixed with lard than beans mixed with cream.

                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: Jelyna

                                                                                                  Chocolate is a bean and adzukis are beans both only in the sense that we lump them together verbally and as produce. Oh, they have some things in common. They are small, they are roundish, they are edible and are parts of plant reproductive structures. But, as a botanist could explain better than me, they aren't very close taxonomically. Adzuki beans have more in common with peanuts than they do with chocolate.

                                                                                                  This is not unlike the way we lump clams and shrimp together under the heading of shellfish. Well, they are both water animals (and the ones we eat usually marine) and they both have shells and they both are tasty, but those are not even in the same phylum. Clams are mollusks and shrimp are crustaceans. They go very well together in a paella or a chowder, but they don't taste much alike.

                                                                                                  Then again, chocolate was not originally sweetened. It took the Europeans to add sugar to it. And aren't we glad they did!

                                                                                                  1. re: Pipenta

                                                                                                    True - but the notion of *beans*-as-dessert being "unnatural" or strange to non-"Asian" folks, brought up by Jelyna, is still a valid point.

                                                                                                    For that matter, I wondered why adzuki beans were being discussed and re-read the OP. Hmm, the statement there of "Actually, since MOST [my stress] Chinese and Japanese desserts are made with Adzuki beans..." is simply not true...

                                                                                                2. I'm an equal opportunity dessert hater. Really, I could just skip over the whole thing. Forever. If I am going to eat a dessert, I always opt for lemon or another fruit flavor and a very small amount suffices.

                                                                                                  My dad grew up in Japan and we often had adzuki bean desserts for special occasions. He didn't like american desserts, esp. frosting, so we almost never had that growing up. Maybe my palate didn't develop normally.

                                                                                                  1. I would say I am not a big fan of Thai deserts but there are some simple deserts that are quite good. If I do have a thai desert while out it will typically be Sweet Mango with sticky rice, "golden" banana (deep fried banana), or even a rice pudding would be good. Thai is my favourite cuisine by far, but for desert - I would prefer either a pie or italian style deserts.

                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: cacruden

                                                                                                      The only bearable dessert was a Taro Ice Cream I had years ago -- not the purple stuff you can buy in markets -- it was the actual taro colored and absolutely delicious;. The question is, which restaurant served it?! Believe me, I've called around and have tried to track it down!

                                                                                                      1. re: Sarah

                                                                                                        I have never seen Taro Ice Cream here in Bangkok but don't generally look at the desert section when I go out to a restaurant (which is not that often). My guess is that Taro Ice Cream is a more recent fusion recipe of more modern development. Next time I am at MK (popular hot pot chain restaurant with thais) I will look at their desert section, I seem to remember they have an extensive one...

                                                                                                        Most Thai/Chinese restaurants do not make their own ice cream either -- usually it is ordered in large vats (at least the green tea ice cream). So if it is not on many restaurants (west) lists, that probably means that their is likely no local supplier of that ice cream.

                                                                                                        Out of my 12 day professional cooking course on Thai cooking - I only one recipe that actually uses Taro (Buad Rum Mit - Sweet Potato, Taro, Banana and Pumpkin in Coconut Milk).

                                                                                                        I believe Taro is more popular in Chinese cooking (although coconut milk is more SE Asian).

                                                                                                    2. I'm like the OP, I almost always dislike Asian desserts.

                                                                                                      There are a handful that I like, or even love, depending on how you define desserts:

                                                                                                      - sweet lassi (like plain sweet lassi, pista lassi)
                                                                                                      - gulab jamun-style donuts (but without the rosewater - I hate rosewater)
                                                                                                      - various ice creams, like kulfi
                                                                                                      - dim sum-style pineapple bun (especially the buttery or creamy ones)
                                                                                                      - chinese sweet almond soup

                                                                                                      but most of the lists that others posted above in this thread make me gag.

                                                                                                      The sponge cakes I've sampled from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean shops, in the US and abroad, have often been very beautiful. But they just weren't very good. They have almost always been too bland (so, not just lacking in sweetness, but also lacking in other flavors).

                                                                                                      As others here have noted, Asian desserts tend to be TOO sweet (as in a lot of South Asian desserts, in which there is just sweetness and texture, to the point that the sweetness is overwhelming and you can't appreciate any other flavors), or TOO bland. OR they incorporate some other flavor that ruins it all (eg adzuki beans, chestnuts, peanuts).

                                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: racer x

                                                                                                        Keep in mind too the issues raised by some posters - e.g., http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5072... ; but there are similar posts along those lines. :-)

                                                                                                        1. re: huiray

                                                                                                          I guess by dessert, for this discussion, I mean a sweetish food or drink that your mother (whether she's Asian or not) would not consider an acceptable option for a nutritious meal in itself. haha

                                                                                                          Basically, foods that little kids tend to like without having to learn that they should be liked. In Western cultures, these items tend to be served as a last course of a meal or to be eaten as a snack throughout the day, especially at parties.

                                                                                                          1. re: racer x

                                                                                                            "I guess by dessert, for this discussion, I mean a sweetish food or drink that your mother (whether she's Asian or not) would not consider an acceptable option for a nutritious meal in itself"
                                                                                                            I think that covers pretty much every "sweet"/moon cake/pastry/sweet-sour preserved plum/peach/etc/whatnot extant in Chinese cuisines. :-)
                                                                                                            Which means...we are *still* circling what it means to have "Dessert". :-)

                                                                                                      2. This thread raises an issue I had never thought about and now I am wondering whether people are perhaps less accepting of "alien" sweets than of savories. Reading these comments, I remembered that when Iived in Argentina as a young girl and my (American) mother made marshmallows, our neighbor gagged on them---the consistency was so different for her. On the other hand, a favorite Argentine candy was "yemas acarameladas", hard-boiled egg yolks encased in hard burnt sugar, and while our neighbors couldn't get enough of them, we found them disgusting and definitely gag-worthy. But all could happily share a barbecue of meat or a meal of pasta. And when we baked fruit pie eg peach, apple etc, our maids refused to eat it.

                                                                                                        11 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                          I definitely think so. I love to bake but I can't offload much at work (and I think my baking is decent!). Co-workers from other cultures will try something, maybe even tell me how nice it is, but they don't go back for a 2nd helping. It took me a couple of years to realise that I am exactly the same with their desserts. I try it, I think "oh interesting" or maybe even "that IS tasty!" but I very rarely want to eat much more. It definitely never sets off the 'can't stop eating' that I get with Western sweets, even some pretty crappy ones.
                                                                                                          I'm actually the same at breakfast... I will try the local foods when travelling but I tend to revert back to Western foods for breakfast, whereas for lunch and dinner I can go months on Asian food for example. No umboshi for breakfast thanks :)

                                                                                                          1. re: julesrules

                                                                                                            On occasion I used to bring in Chinese pastries or even Chinese-type savory snacks to my former workplace and put it out besides the shared printer with a note to "Help Yourself". They were usually barely touched. (The folks in the immediate office area were Caucasian USAmericans with one Indian woman and one Middle-Eastern fellow) The only thing that ever had more than 1 or 2 pieces picked up was something that approximated a "Western"-type pastry - slightly sweet puff pastry cut into 'fingers', egg-wash glazed w/ slivered/sliced almonds sprinkled on top, about an inch in height/thickness after baking. Once the group head (a Chinese-Taiwanese person) brought in sweets and pastries appropriate to Chinese New Year for sharing at the morning Group Meeting that particular day. They were basically ignored (I sampled them), and I heard a comment or two after the meeting about the person bringing in "(that person's) weird stuff" - not sneeringly, but slightly dismissively in tone.

                                                                                                            OTOH, leftover "normal" sandwiches (roast beef, ham&cheese, that sort of thing), Western cakes (buttercream, sugar icing, "normal" Western cake batter mixes etc) e.g. after a group celebration for someone's birthday, etc - those vanished quickly. Hmm, I wonder why... ;-) I, on the other hand, ignored those - and especially recoiled from the layer cakes with buttercream. :-D

                                                                                                            1. re: huiray

                                                                                                              Yes I love it when people give out moon cakes... because the boxes are so pretty :)

                                                                                                              1. re: julesrules

                                                                                                                ...but do you EAT the moon cakes themselves? :-)

                                                                                                                1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                  I always try a bite... I try to like them, but I do not. At all. Keep the boxes on my desk forever!

                                                                                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                    I like some of the mixed seed ones. They taste nutty. But one will hold me for a month or two.

                                                                                                            2. re: Querencia

                                                                                                              Sounds like you would find Chinese Moon Cakes with salted duck egg yolks in the bean paste filling disgusting too? Interesting.

                                                                                                              p.s. Moon Cakes are...moon cakes. They're not exactly "Dessert" in the Western sense.

                                                                                                              1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                                Querencia, my first thought was, were the maids on diets? lol

                                                                                                                But those yemas acarameladas sound disgusting. I can't deal with eggs, or at least not the yolks of eggs (I don't each quiche or scrambled eggs. I always order any dish that is supposedly enhanced by an egg on top, eg bibimbap, without the egg!).

                                                                                                                1. re: racer x

                                                                                                                  "were the maids on diets?"
                                                                                                                  Uh, why do you think that?
                                                                                                                  (Were they supposed to love peach/apple/etc fruit pies?)

                                                                                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                    Oh, no. It's just that I know that many folks these days (and I am thinking of offices I worked in and school settings) decline to accept offers of servings of even goodies they love because they are on diets! I've done it myself!

                                                                                                              2. I am not sure about other Asian cuisines, but to be quite honest I think the concept of a "desert" itself is actually a foreign concept here. Thais love sweets, but they generally are not "deserts" but (sweet) "snacks" (not served as part of a meal itself). Western cuisines tend have "deserts" which are the last course of a meal.

                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. It took me a long time to realize the reason I like some Indian desserts but not others was the rose water. It just tastes funny to me. I love a lot of other Asian desserts, though. The not-to-sweet cakes, red bean and sesame filled items ... mmmm. But my favorite is the combination of tapoica, coconut milk, and fruits like mango, lychee, rambutan, or jackfruit. Like these two:


                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                  1. re: caffinatedmints

                                                                                                                    Ah, but try a dash of rosewater in your lemonade and drink that glass full even if you are not sure about it.

                                                                                                                    And wait.

                                                                                                                    You will find yourself craving it. And you will drink it by the pitcherful. Until you decide to try orange blossom water in your limeade and you will obsess on THAT.


                                                                                                                    It's the acid that balances the floral with the sweet. Then you can add bitter, then booze, and you have a dandy cocktail!

                                                                                                                  2. Would love to hear your thoughts on Persian desserts - similar to Indian in some ways (rosewater, similar spices, etc.)

                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                    1. re: PotatoPuff

                                                                                                                      One of my colleagues is married to an Iranian national and went to Iran. She brought back the yummiest cookies--very flat, sprinkled with chopped pistachios, deep brown in color, can't remember the spicing--but as you say, similar to Indian or Afghani. I thought they were very good.

                                                                                                                    2. I grew up with Japanese sweets. Sakura mochi (my very favorite), o-hagi (a very close second), yokan, toasted mochi dipped in sugared and toasted soybean flour, etc. They remind me of very happy times. My husband, from Eastern European descent, hates them. But it can't be just what you grew up with, because I love Indian sweets (ras malai, gulab jamun, kheer, etc) and SE Asian sweets (mango with sticky rice, fried bananas, black rice pudding, banana murtabak, ice kachang, Indonesian coconut-rice sweets, and lots of things I don't even know the names of, etc). However, in my mind, Chinese sweets (other than egg tarts or coconut tarts), take some getting used to. Just me, I guess.

                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                      1. re: PAO

                                                                                                                        Hmm, which Chinese sweets are you referring to? Because the Japanese sweets that you named all have very similar tastes to quite a few Chinese sweets as well. Perhaps, you just haven't had the chance to sample some other Chinese sweets you may like? If you like mochi, you can try Chinese tang yuan. They are rice balls(like mochi) but usually boiled in a sweet soup and filled with black sesame or red bean among other fillings. Actually, Yokan is a sweet that the Japanese learned from China in ancient times. I quite like the ones with dried dragoneye fruit. As for the toasted mochi with kinako, in Sichuan they eat a kind of mochi which is also dusted with roasted soybean flour and then drizzled with brown sugar syrup. I think you would like it. Its called San Da Pao

                                                                                                                      2. dessert without chocolate?

                                                                                                                        Can't be done.

                                                                                                                        A chinese dude.

                                                                                                                        1. Well, I do try to be open-minded. I try lots of new sweets and desserts. In recent years, I have found that I love Pocky, dried ginger candies, dried sour plum candies, desserts or sugary drinks flavored with yuzu or calamansi -- all on first exposure. But I had to try a lot of nasty stuff to get to those.

                                                                                                                          I really like certain Chinese almond cookies, but MOST Chinese almond cookies sold in the US that I try are vile.

                                                                                                                          I recently tried some Chinese candies made from sweetened hawthorn pressed into wafers. (When I bought them and first tried them, I didn't really know what they were because most of the info on the package was in Chinese -- they just looked like they might be good in the pictures on the package.) I kind of liked how the candy combined sweet and sour, but overall, it tasted too earthy -- kind of reminded me of a barnyard for some reason. Tossed them.

                                                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: racer x

                                                                                                                            Perhaps you should just avoid "Asian" sweets. Stick to Western/USAmerican desserts in their own context.

                                                                                                                            1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                              But that would be too boring. And I might miss out on something I actually prefer!
                                                                                                                              Cherimoya is one of my absolute favorites, for example. Had I just stuck with the tried and true, I'd have never discovered how wonderful it is.

                                                                                                                              That's the whole idea, for me, behind chowhound. There are enough delicious foods that I already know about that if I were just going to go with what I was already comfortable with, I'd never need to come to chowhound to look for anything else.

                                                                                                                              1. re: racer x

                                                                                                                                I'm in the same boat. If I never tried new things, there would have been so many WONDERFUL things that i would have missed. And I find I can't always go by what other people like. (I really love marmite, for example).

                                                                                                                                So I try stuff. I've had wonderful rice puddings and tapioca puddings with mango in Thai restaurants. I adore the avocado milkshakes served in Vietnamese restaurants so much that I make them at home. (ice + sweetened condensed milk + avocado) in the blender and an untraditional addition of tequila is lovely. I am trying to get up my nerve to try a durian shake. And I once had fantastic baked egg custard buns at 20 Mott Street in NY, covered with a sugary icing. Mmmmm.

                                                                                                                                So yes, I will keep trying new things too, even if I don't have the best success rate.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Pipenta

                                                                                                                                  Good for you. :-)

                                                                                                                                  It strikes me, though, that the things you mention liking - the rice/tapioca puddings, the mango (ergo, pudding + mango), avocado, milkshakes, egg custard variation - all don't strike me as particularly "Asian" but seem to be basic types of stuff that are common in Western cuisine too. Perhaps one could say they are Western desserts with a vague "Asian" twist, but are not so foreign. Nevertheless, maybe these might lead you to try more specifically "Asian" stuff - how about sweet red bean soup? Or water chestnut cakes? Maybe some Nyonya kuih? :-)

                                                                                                                                  As an aside - the cherimoya referred to in the previous post is neither here nor there in the context of this thread... :-) It's a fruit, not necessarily a "dessert", that isn't "Asian"...nor is its relative the soursop, although the latter was introduced to SE Asia and has been grown there for some time now. But in terms of "trying stuff" - sure.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                    I mentioned cherimoya because it's a favorite of mine and it's entirely alien to my family and most of my friends that don't have Latin American roots, not because it's a dessert or it's Asian per se. (However, since you bring it up, my first experience with cherimoya was in milkshakes in India. So it was Asian and it was for dessert.)

                                                                                                                          2. Something that I don't think anyone has mentioned:
                                                                                                                            The point was made earlier that these preferences may have to do with what positive exposures you get to foods when you are growing up. But perhaps a contributing factor we aren't considering is that while you are growing up and deciding what foods you like, you are also deciding and cataloguing what foods in your native culture that you really don't like. When I go to the candy section of a drugstore, for instance, I know that I won't like 95% of the stuff there, because I've already tried most of it at some point. Similarly, I know when I go into a bakery (an American bakery) that I haven't ever been to before that I probably won't like the pecan pie, lemon meringue pie, German chocolate cake, desserts with coffee flavoring, etc because I've tried many of these over the years. I haven't had the same chance to do that cataloguing with Asian foods simply from the lack of an equivalent lifetime of exposure. So it's not really an apples-to-apples comparison.

                                                                                                                            (The cognitive psychologists or behavioral economists probably have some technical term for this kind of bias. I don't know what it's called though.)

                                                                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: racer x

                                                                                                                              "that these preferences may have to do with what positive exposures you get to foods when you are growing up."
                                                                                                                              Absolutely! It is very important how you present food in general to young children, they are quick to pick up on clues, may it be verbally or simply a facial expression.
                                                                                                                              Regarding the Mooncakes - I had picked up a bunch of those interesting looking Mooncakes from the Asian Food market a few months ago, and I had brought them along to my Grandchildren, two girls almost 5 years old then. One of the girls was curious enough to try them but wasn't that fond of them. The other girl loved them, so we both munched them happily. Later on in walks their mother and was prompted by her little daughter to try one too. Now picture this - the mother bites into one, goes "what IS that", makes a face and puts it down. The girl now looks down on hers, which she had enjoyed before and puts hers down too. What a message her mother gave her!!
                                                                                                                              I should add, she had not been able to "catalogue" goodies like mooncakes in her childhood, since I her mother ( me) never knew of their existence in those years....

                                                                                                                              1. re: RUK

                                                                                                                                Good anecdote. Thanks for relating that.

                                                                                                                                There is another aspect to this too. In some families what you tried while growing up was also dependent to a major extent on what your parents liked themselves and ordered (e.g. in restaurants) or bought or brought home for YOU to try in as a result. In contrast, some other folks may have wandered all over [with money given to them by their parents] and tried stuff on their own as a child.

                                                                                                                                1. re: RUK

                                                                                                                                  Love that story, RUK.
                                                                                                                                  I'm sure there is quite a bit of that going on in determining our food preferences, whether it's from mother, or brothers and sisters and playmates, or schoolmates.

                                                                                                                                  And then there's the new information that some believe suggests that taste preferences might even be influenced by what your mother eats while she is pregnant with you!
                                                                                                                                  (I'm pretty sure I saw this discussed somewhere on chowhound, but I can't find the link.)

                                                                                                                                2. re: racer x

                                                                                                                                  That is interesting and I think your idea has some validity. But I am someone who pretty much likes all sweets. I *wish* I could just say "that's not my thing" to more items!

                                                                                                                                  Living near India town I also ate plenty of Indian desserts growing up.. gulab jamun and barfi specifically were favourites of my parents. I'm told I used to like the gulab jamun when I was very young specifically for its sweetness I suppose but I don't much like it now. And I can take or leave barfi. I nibble on it when people bring it to the office but would never buy it. My mother on the other hand loves it.

                                                                                                                                3. I was looking at something else, but this old article came back up...


                                                                                                                                  A relevant quote/extract:
                                                                                                                                  "The sequence of delicious desserts is an irrelevance for these visitors from a food culture without much of a sweet tooth. (The only dish they relish, curiously, is a coconut sorbet.) "
                                                                                                                                  [from the 8th paragraph]

                                                                                                                                  BTW I think the entire article bears re-reading and ruminating on.


                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                    Oh, that is a wonderful piece, Huiray.
                                                                                                                                    Thanks for sharing it!

                                                                                                                                    1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                      Yes, I remember that article, but it is still a good read! Makes sense!

                                                                                                                                    2. I wasn't introduced to Asian desserts until I was in high school, really, but I've found a decent number that I enjoy, although I don't find them very substitutable. I'm not really interested in apple pie right after eating a Chinese entree, while red bean mochi would seem heretical right after eating a traditional American meal. About the only desserts that cross these lines for me are ice cream and Asian baked goods.

                                                                                                                                      I love red bean paste. When I first tried it I thought that it was absolutely disgusting, but it grew on me. No, it's usually not very sweet, and I prefer it as an afternoon treat, possibly with tea. I also somehow acquired a taste for che. I had a particularly divine taro one once. I strongly prefer the cakes you get at Chinese bakeries to most American cakes. I detest American cakes. I've made cakes that everyone else adores but I don't find worth eating. I love cookies and pies though. And I pretty much universally adore Indian desserts, though I find they are so rich and sweet that I wouldn't want more than a tiny bit.

                                                                                                                                      On the other hand, I detest anything Durian based. I've tried. The texture is wonderful in theory. But the smell and taste make me gag. I'd be willing to try it again, but I'm certainly not going to seek it out. My worst experience with standard Chinese desserts has just been encountering the kind of boring ones. I've never really disliked one, but I have found some incredibly forgettable.

                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                      1. re: celesul

                                                                                                                                        Talking about Durian - I don't think there is any grey area, either people love it or totally hate it. I happen to be one who really likes it and DH will happily share some with me every so often.
                                                                                                                                        We had Dinner the other day at the Mekong grill in Ridgewood NJ, and for dessert we had to try their Durian Cheesecake!!! Heaven on a plate, it was soooo good! Talk about a perfect dessert to top off a good Vietnamese meal!

                                                                                                                                        1. re: RUK

                                                                                                                                          MRT (subway) here apparently does not like Durian..... they have a sign up near the entrance at a local market.... no durian allowed on MRT :o

                                                                                                                                      2. I am so with you on adzuki beans, I hate them so much!!!

                                                                                                                                        What about Cantonese style dessert? Especially the more contemporary ones are more universal I think because it's more western flavours? Like fruit based sago (tiny tapioca like things). I also like "pancakes" that are quite popular which is a crepe wrapped around a ball of whipped cream and inside is a huuuuuuuuuuuge chunk of fruit (most popular choices are mango and durian but durian is very polarizing...).

                                                                                                                                        For the more traditional desserts I really, REALLY enjoy glutinous rice balls in Chinese dessert that are cooked in a ginger and yam soup (tastes more appealing than it sounds) and the balls are usually filled with black sesame paste...those are definitely quite sweet. What about ginger milk, those are magical! You pour hot milk with sugar onto ginger juice and the starch from the ginger naturally coagulate the milk! So it's solid but liquidy at the same time and you get sweetness but an oomph! from the ginger!

                                                                                                                                        1. It's mooncakes time. I happened to be in a local Asian grocery yesterday and overheard a Chinese customer helping another (apparently non-Chinese) customer choose a few items. The latter was very thankful for the suggestions that he should buy plenty of mooncakes.

                                                                                                                                          I found myself wondering whether that was advice to be thankful for. I've never found a mooncake I found edible, despite how enticing many of them appear!

                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: racer x

                                                                                                                                            "I've never found a mooncake I found edible"
                                                                                                                                            Really? That's tragic.
                                                                                                                                            etc etc etc.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: racer x

                                                                                                                                              I bought some on Thursday, and we just got done sampling them. We preferred the Green Tea flavor and another one which had a similar "clearish" filling, we actually liked them. We also had one with an Egg filling, that was not too great, I thought it was dry. But the egg was encased in some layer which contained Almonds and some Nuts and that part was pretty tasty.

                                                                                                                                            2. i never liked them either. i'm glad i'm not the only one. can't stand jilebi.
                                                                                                                                              the problem with indian deserts is they are not using quality ingredients (artificial colorings, refined sugars, poor quality ghee, not freshly ground flours, etc..) just make them horrid eating experiences for me.

                                                                                                                                              12 Replies
                                                                                                                                              1. re: dahlias

                                                                                                                                                That of course is not true.
                                                                                                                                                I have had and made Indian Sweets and Desserts with great natural ingredients.
                                                                                                                                                Perhaps you should seek out better quality.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: chefj

                                                                                                                                                  Maybe you just can't get good ones in the US. My experience with Indian sweets during a trip to Chennai this year was an epiphany: although I practically grew up eating Indian sweets in Singapore, the ones in India were simply magical:

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: klyeoh

                                                                                                                                                    where specifically in chennai you had the sweets? was it in a home or at a specific shop?

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: dahlias

                                                                                                                                                      As per the thread in the post above - Grand Sweets in T Nagar, one of the branches of a chain specializing in traditional Indian sweets. Usually, part of the outlet is a bakery/sweetshop whilst the other part is a full-fledged restaurant.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: klyeoh

                                                                                                                                                        among the sweets they sell which ones you recommend? do you know if they use pure ingredients?

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: dahlias

                                                                                                                                                          Care to define what you mean by "pure ingredients" ? What would be an "impure ingredient" to you?

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: dahlias

                                                                                                                                                            I had all of these (in the pic). They may "look" just like the ones I can get from any Indian sweet shop back in Singapore, but one bite into any of these showed all the difference!

                                                                                                                                                            Its website here:

                                                                                                                                                      2. re: klyeoh

                                                                                                                                                        Indian sweets can be delicate and pick up off flavors due to the high dairy content and like dahlias I've had more than my fair share of stale tasting barfi, but that doesn't mean there are no good sweets stateside. Sukhadia's is a reliably good Indian sweet shop with locations throughout the US. Locally I buy my motichoor ladoo from Al Naimat.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: JungMann

                                                                                                                                                          Where would be good places for them on Devon in ChiTown?

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                                            There is a Sukhadia on Devon but I think my Dad usually gets sweets from Tahoora. If you go to the latter, the gulab jamun and samosas are definite must-buys.

                                                                                                                                                        2. re: klyeoh

                                                                                                                                                          Agreed the Good Quality Sweet shops in India are amazing.
                                                                                                                                                          You can find very well made sweets in the US but you need to seek them out.
                                                                                                                                                          Regardless of that the blanket statement was patently untrue, as are most (other than this one of course).

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: chefj

                                                                                                                                                            So far, the "best" one I'd found stateside was Ambala in Artesia, CA: