The best easy, popular Asian dessert recipes- both traditional and modern- that you'll wish you had tried sooner!
Asian desserts are typically lighter than Western desserts and, traditionally, don't use much butter or heavy cream. (I do have a few popular modern Asian bakes in the list below though.)
We also like more interesting textures, such as the chewiness of glutinous rice!
These glutinous rice balls look and sound complicated but can really be made in minutes!
Black Sesame Soup
On the note of black sesame, it's nutty flavor makes it a very popular flavor in Asian countries. Another traditional Chinese food dessert is Hei Zhi Ma Sweet Soup!
You can enjoy it both warm or chilled.
Tip: remember to toast the black sesame seeds before grinding.
Red Bean Soup
It can be enjoyed hot or chilled and is often served with tangyuan!
Bird's Nest Soup
This is 1 of the most popular- and expensive!- traditional Chinese desserts, as it is believed to have a beautifying effect!
It's considered a luxurious indulgence and is a prized dessert that has captivated palates for centuries. (Originally reserved for the Chinese Emperor and aristocracy! You needed to be rich to enjoy it. Not only are the ingredients costly, but you also need to have a lot of time to pick out the black impurities before cooking!)
This exquisite delicacy, highly revered in Chinese cuisine, is made from the saliva of swiftlets. They were traditionally harvested from cliffs or caves and thus had a lot of dirt and feathers in them! (There are swiftlet farms nowadays.)
Honestly, the dessert doesn't have much taste. It has a gelatinous texture and is sweetened with rock sugar. The allure is really in its perceived health effects (and maybe the "snob appeal.")
Muah Chee are soft, chewy and sticky glutinous rice balls, coated in a sweet mixture of crushed peanuts and sugar or black sesame and sugar.
Sea Coconut Tong Sui
If you prefer jellies, you can have this as a sea coconut jelly instead!
Koi Agar Agar
Jelly is so popular in Asia- especially in Southeast Asia where it is HOT, jellies make a very refreshing dessert- that I have an entire section dedicated to it below!
If you can't get agar agar powder (usually in the vegan aisle or Asian supermarket), feel free to use 1 of these agar agar powder substitutes instead.
P.S. For more lunar new year sweet treats, click here.
Nan Gua Bing
Note: although this is a sweet pumpkin recipe, like Chinese almond cookies, walnut cookies and peanut cookies, it's really eaten more as a snack than a dessert. (We don't have as strong of a dessert culture in Asian cuisine as compared to the West!)
This delectable pastry has a buttery and flaky crust with a silky smooth egg custard filling
Try these creamy, rich and delicious Hong Kong egg tarts!
Chinese Mango Pudding
This mango sago dessert 芒果西米露 was 1 of my favourites growing up.
It is sweet and creamy from the mangoes. Served chilled, it's wonderful on a hot day. (Besides sago, you can also add tapioca pearls for texture.)
Moreover, the bright orange color makes it as attractive as it is delicious!
Note: If you're using home-squeezed mango juice, please remember to strain or the pudding will have a very fibrous texture!! (Honestly, shop bought makes your life a lot easier.)
These pastries traditionally have flaky crusts and sumptuous fillings such as lotus seed paste, red bean, or salted egg yolks. Modern versions have soft "snow skin" exteriors and chocolate, matcha or even ice cream inside!
There are even (traditional) savoury versions, but those are harder to find.
Note: Mooncakes 月餅 are usually eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋節 to celebrate the full moon and the harvest.
These cakes even have political significance. In the 14th century, it is said that China overthrew Mongol conquerors by passing secret messages hidden in mooncakes!
Ma Lai Gao
Literally "Malay cake", this steamed Chinese dessert is said to have been invented in Malaysia, eventually becoming popular in Hong Kong. (Which is why we now see it in Cantonese Dim Sum restaurants!)
While not a traditional dessert per se, Boba Milk Tea has taken the dessert world by storm. The classic version is a sweet, creamy, and refreshing beverage made with chewy tapioca pearls submerged in a flavorful milk tea concoction.
However, these days you can find it made without tea (see below), in fruit juice etc etc!
Taiwanese are pretty innovative when it comes to drinks! Another popular Taiwanese drink is papaya milk, which is said to promote buxom-ness!
South East Asian
South East Asian desserts use a lot of tropical flavors, such as coconut milk and fresh fruit. For example, in Singapore and Malaysia, papaya grows abundantly, so papaya is used in everything from desserts to smoothies!
Honestly, this is more of a drink than a Singaporean dessert but because it is so creamy and sweet, we do often end a meal with a Milo Dinosaur in Singapore!
Pandan Chiffon Cake
In Singapore, Bengawan Solo is thought to make some of the best pandan chiffon cakes. You can even buy them at the airport before you leave!
Durian is beloved in Asia, but it's not for everyone!
It has a very pungent smell which not everyone enjoys. An American friend actually spat it out right after trying it!
For those who do enjoy this stinky fruit, Durian Pancake is a must-try. The rich, creamy flesh of the fruit is enveloped in a delicate pancake crepe wrap.
Chendol is a popular Singaporean and Malaysian dessert that features pandan-flavored jelly (in the shape of short noodles, or worms) in a mixture of coconut milk flavoured with palm sugar syrup, and cooled by crushed ice. It's a refreshing and sweet treat perfect for hot weather.
However, it melts super quickly as the below shows!
Mango Sticky Rice
This is a super popular traditional Thai dessert. It combines the lusciousness of sweet ripe mangoes with creamy sticky glutinous rice, all bathed in a velvety coconut sauce and topped with some crispy mung beans. The contrasting textures and harmonious blend of sweet and fragrant flavors go together perfectly!
When I visited my Dad in Thailand- he lived there for over 20 years- we would find it everywhere, from street vendors to upsmarket hotels!
Note: it's very important to use perfectly ripe mangoes here. A sour mango will spoil the dish!
Ripe bananas are coated in a light batter, then deep-fried to perfection. The crispy outside goes so well with the hot and oozing warm bananas inside. For a fruit-based dessert, you'll be surprised by how rich and creamy this street snack is!
Note: The type of bananas used for these fried banana fritters is important! (Pisang Raja is a popular choice.)
Filipinos love their sweets (I know as my Dad has lied there for the last 13 or so years) and Halo Halo is 1 of the most popular there!
Halo-Halo, meaning "mix-mix" in Tagalog, is a beloved Filipino dessert that has several colourful ingredients. (It's somewhat similar to Ice Kachang in Singapore and Bingsu in Korea.)
This refreshing dessert consists of shaved ice, fruits, jellies, beans, leche flan, topped with a scoop of ube (purple yam) ice cream.
Bingsu is a very finely shaved ice dessert that can be made in assorted flavors. It's 1 of the most popular desserts in Korea.
You can add anything from red bean paste, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream!
Dalgona candy became famous worldwide after squid game but I must say this sweet is really more of a street snack than dessert (as is Hotteok below.)
Besides Dalgona candy, there is also a Dalgona Coffee!
Tip: In Seoul, you can find a few old ladies selling it in Myeong Dong (Having said that, I generally don't recommend the street food there!)
This is a sweet pancake stuffed with brown sugar and cinnamon, then fried. Better versions incorporate some seeds and nuts, such as pine nuts. (The Busan version, Ssiatt Hotteok, is overflowing with them!)
Note: if you're pressed for time, you can make it using Hotteok Box Mix (Step-by-step instructions via the link.)
Japanese Castella Cake, or Kasutera (カステラ), is a honey sponge cake, originally introduced by the Portugese, with a fluffy texture made from just 4 ingredients.
This tasty dessert is a light and soft sponge cake.
Matcha can be found in many Japanese (or Japanese-inspired) sweet treat recipes, from Matcha Blueberry Latte, to Matcha Chai Tea, Matcha Cheesecake, Matcha Cookies and Matcha
Tip: your matcha powder should be a nice bright green. If it's dull, the matcha is old and has oxidised.
Soft, chewy, and utterly addictive, Mochi is a traditional Japanese dessert made from glutinous rice flour (Mochiko flour, or sweet rice flour.) These bite-sized delights come in various flavors and fillings, from classic red bean paste to matcha, chocolate, strawberry and more. You can make mochi with anything from fresh mango to red beans or green tea powder.
It's surprisingly easy, only requiring 5 ingredients!
Tip: make mochi ice cream by wrapping the mochi skin around a ball of ice cream, instead of the mango!
This is really a modern fusion dessert, invented by Third Bakery in California, which has a Southeast Asian heritage. (And not a Japanese one, but it seemed apt to put it under "Mochi"- both use glutinous rice flour (sweet rice flour) and have a chewy texture.)
If you're vegan, the butter can be replaced as per the following recipe.
Jellies are popular Asian desserts: you can find them in Filipino desserts, Singaporean sweets, Malaysian desserts, Japanese etc etc!
Jellies can be made from gelatine or the vegan alternatives, agar agar (kanten) and konnyaku (konjac.) Each gives a different texture to the final jelly.
Pandan Agar Agar
Gui Hua Gao Jelly
Sour Plum Jelly
No Sugar Jelly
If you're trying to clean up your diet, here are more sugar- free dessert recipes that are perfect for summer!
If these recipes for Asian desserts were helpful, maybe you'd like to sign up for my Asian food newsletter?