We can pronounce pho the right way and order xiao long bao without batting an eyelid, but when it comes to a sweet snack at the end of dinner, Asian desserts often leave us stumped (but curious nonetheless). We trekked around town sampling some of the more interesting options available on menus in Chinatown and further afield and found some terrific dishes in the process – from coconut-scented sago pudding to a sky-high cone of sweet roti.
When perusing this list, remember that are countless other desserts that belong here. This is just an introduction to the world of Asian post-dinner treats.
Matcha soft serve at Chanoma Cafe
It takes a couple of licks to get your head around the taste of matcha – the rich, thick, almost bitter Japanese green tea made from a powder. If you prefer your desserts complex rather than sickly sweet, this one is for you. A generous serve of smoky, dark green ice cream on a waffle cone is the perfect thing to eat while strolling down George Street (it’s takeaway only). If you want to sit in the cute cafe, strung with fake green vines, the matcha frappes are also excellent.
501 George Street, Sydney
Sago pudding at Marigold
Sago pudding is one of those dishes that pops up in a number of countries including Malaysia, but is served slightly differently each time. This one is a thick, custard dessert that is baked so it forms a toffee-coloured, caramelised skin on top. Pierce the skin and you will uncover tightly packed sago pearls with a creamy texture and hints of coconut milk. Order it with the mango pancakes, which taste exactly like Weis bars.
Levels 4 & 5, Citymark Building/683-689 George Street, Sydney
Better Than Sex at House Thai
Although not strictly authentic, the rest of the food on offer at House is, so we think it still counts. This dessert is seriously decadent: a layer of toasted brioche topped with a scoop of pandan ice cream and doused in toffee-flavoured gula melaka syrup. The crunchy, warm brioche draws out the smoky flavour of the caramel beautifully and the delicately flavoured ice cream turns it all into a creamy, gooey, delicious mess. Share this one between two or more – the bread makes it surprisingly filling and rich.
Egg tart at Zilver
It’s a difficult task trying to save room in your stomach after an afternoon at yum cha, but for these, you must. Similar to a Portuguese tart (without the caramelised, brown topping) these tarts come out piping hot, with flaky, light pastry encasing a pale yellow, smooth, slightly sweet custard filling that has a distinctly egg-like flavour. Wash it down with green tea and roll on home.
Level 1/477 Pitt Street, Haymarket
Roti Tisu at Mamak
There is rarely a time where you can eat at Malaysian restaurant Mamak without queuing for at least 15 minutes, so once your inside, make the most of it with dessert. The roti tisu is a good choice if you’ve stuffed yourself with curry and fried chicken, as it’s lighter than the other dessert roti. Served as an enormous cone of paper-thin, crunchy dough with a coating of spun sugar and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side, the biggest challenge is how to start. Unwrapping it brings you back to your childhood – when the paper was more exciting than what is inside. It gets sweeter as you unravel. Once you’re on the second layer, attack it with your spoon and scoop up the ice cream like chips with dip.
Dragon beard candy at Chinatown Friday night markets
Look for the stall with the queue at these bustling markets and line up for a box of Chinese fairy floss. Little white pillows of chewy, stringy spun sugar with a rich flavour that isn’t as teeth-rottingly sweet as the Easter Show find, make sure you eat them on the spot as they don’t have a long shelf life (it won’t pose much of a problem).
Taikaya & ice cream at Kura Japanese Dining
Red bean paste (made from sweetened azuki beans) is an acquired taste, but if you’re willing to give it a go, Taikaya is a good place to start. Get a pack of three to take away from this triangle-shaped restaurant, or eat in with a tub of green tea ice cream. The cute Japanese fish-shaped cakes are made from soft waffle with red bean paste in the middle, which is a slightly sweet, earthy, mush and tastes a little like sweet potato.
3/76 Ultimo Road, Haymarket
Ice kachang at Alice's Makan
Put this one on the backburner for a balmy night – no one likes brain freeze in winter. Super refreshing and sweet, Alice’s Makan serves an excellent version of this Malaysian dessert – a cup of shaved ice with the perfect ratio of carnation (evaporated) milk, palm sugar, grenadine syrup with a few tapioca balls to top it off. The palm sugar and carnation milk combine to taste like caramel. Scoop it up with the grenadine and tastes like caramel coated redskins – slightly strange but very awesome.
Regent Place, 580 George Street, Sydney
Red date longan tea at Golden Bo
If you’re a fan of hot toddies, you’ll enjoy this on a cold night when you’re feeling a little sniffly. This very sweet tea is like drinking liquid honey, filled with warm longan berries (similar to lychees), dried chrysanthemum flowers, goji berries and red dates. It’s a very pretty drink that, in China, is popular with women when recovering from giving birth or in the last part of the menstrual cycle.
3a/72-76 Archer Street, Chatswood
Syrup pudding with cheese at Maya Indian Sweets
These cheesy logs taste similar to the traditional Indian dessert gulab jamin, which is in turn similar to a doughnut, in that it’s deep-fried, but thicker and not as fluffy. It’s soaked in syrup but drained well so that it’s not sickly sweet. You then split down the middle, hot dog style and place a wedge of sweet paneer on top. If you have room for more, the rest of the sweets in the display are almost all very good.
468-472 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills