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What Are the Different Types of Chinese Desserts?

By Amber Eberle
Updated May 17, 2024
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In Chinese culture, dessert is not usually served at the end of a meal as it is in the West, rather sweet recipes may be served as a part of the main meal, or may be eaten as snacks. Some Chinese desserts are eaten mainly during holidays or festivals, while others are consumed on a more regular basis. Popular Chinese desserts include candy, ice cream or shaved ice, and rice cakes. Sweet dessert soups and dumplings are also commonly served. Recipes for these dishes are plentiful, or finished dishes may be purchased from an Asian market, bakery, or Chinese restaurant.

Rice is a staple of Chinese cuisine and is often used to make sweet rice cakes. This type of dessert usually consists of steamed balls of rice that may be either loosely rolled or tightly packed to make them easier to eat. These cakes are often sweetened with rose water or red bean paste. Rice cakes can also be served in a variety of puddings.

Soups are unique Chinese desserts that can be found in a wide range of flavors. While many are served hot, several varieties may be served cold or at room temperature. Red bean soup and a sweetened almond soup are popular versions of these kinds of dishes. Sweet dumplings, called tangyuan, may be served along a dessert soup, or may be placed in it. Tangyuan are generally filled with sugar, black sesame seeds, or peanut butter.

While most Chinese desserts are served warm or at room temperature, ice cream and shaved is a popular cold dishes. Ice cream can be found in a wide variety of flavors throughout China. Shaved ice is also widely enjoyed, and is called baobing. Chinese shaved ice typically consists of a mound of finely shaved ice that is flavored with sweet syrups. Fruits may be mixed with it, and condensed milk is often used as a sweet topping.

Candy is enjoyed all over China, and is often used as dessert. Most candy that is used as Chinese desserts has a hard outer coating, although an exception to this is cotton candy, which is much the same as its Western cousin. Many Chinese hard candies are fruit-flavored, and can range in taste from just slightly sweet to very sugary. Popular flavors include mango and lychee. Special varieties are often produced and consumed around important holidays, such as Chinese New Year.

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Discussion Comments

By Lostnfound — On Jul 21, 2014

@Grivusangel -- Like you, I don't know if these are really authentically Chinese, but one of the restaurants here serves these sesame balls. They have sweet bean paste inside and sesame seeds on the outside. They're kind of chewy. I think they're fried.

I like them. They're different without being weird. I've noticed a lot of Chinese restaurants that offer buffets also have doughnuts on the bar. I asked the owner of one, and she said they put them on one time, and they were so popular, they kept them on the bar. I know they're not Chinese at all, but the customers love them.

By Grivusangel — On Jul 20, 2014

I don't know if fried bananas are really, authentically Chinese, but I've seen them in nearly every Chinese restaurant I've ever been to. I have seen them sort of glazed and fried, like bananas foster, but at the first Chinese place where I ever had something besides chop suey, fried bananas were on the menu and they were battered and deep fried, and were also stuffed with sweet bean paste.

The man who owned the restaurant always served his fried bananas with powdered sugar on top. They were really good, and I've never been really fond of cooked bananas before. But I liked those.

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