To tell the truth, at the beginning of my life in Taiwan I did not like most Chinese desserts. I found them bland, tasteless, well ... not sweet enough!
Now, after a few years in Taiwan, I always enjoy a bowl of sweet red azuki beans or a bite of mochi for dessert. Change of habits or brainwashing? My wife likes to joke about the latter ...
Anyway, these are the most important sweets that you will find in Taiwan (or at least, the ones I have eaten). Some are typically local, some come from Mainland China.
For sure I am not a professional gourmet, so this page certainly does not pretend to be a complete classification of Chinese Desserts. It is just a list of the Chinese desserts that you will most likely encounter during your trip or stay in Taiwan.
Chinese Desserts: Bao Bing topped with taro balls, mung beans and grass jelly.
Many taiwanese are crazy for Bao Bing, which is the local variety for shaved ice.
"Classic" Bao Bing is topped with red azuki beans, mung beans, taro balls, peanuts and further sweetened with sugar syrup or condensed milk.
Bao Bing often is also enriched with fresh fruit, especially mango. The ice could be crushed coarsely or very finely.
If it is very fine, it looks like Sicilian granita.
Bao Bing is eaten all year round, of course more in the hot Taiwanese summer. Word of mouth rewards the better "Bao Bing Shops", such as Ice Monster and Tai Yi Milk King in Taipei, or Dong Dong Yu Yuan in Dakeng, around our Taichung City.
Chinese Desserts: Douhua - Tofu Pudding
A few years ago in Taiwan - as my my wife remembers from her childhood - hawkers used to push their carts everywhere to sell douhua, the "Toufu Pudding".
Douhua is a soft fresh toufu, similar to a pudding. Its Chinese name means "tofu flower".
Douhua is a chinese dish, originally from Guangdong province. Howewer the chinese Douhua is a savory dish, eaten for breakfast.
Taiwanese Douhua is also sweet, topped with sugar syrup and peanuts. Douhua is usually eaten with ice in summer, warm in winter.
In this case is eaten as a dessert.
Without being too adventurous you can find a very good Douhwa in the food court of Taipei 101, right in front of one of the entrances, close to KFC.
The name of the shop is Xiao Nan Men (Little South Gate), it is a chain store. So you can find this eatery in other parts of Taipei and, besides Douhua, it offers different excellent Taiwanese snacks.
If Toufu Pudding seems to you a simple, "old fashioned" dessert, you are probably right. Indeed it is. I do like Douhua very much. To many taiwanese it brings memory of their childhood. I suggest you to try this sweet.
Raw Xian Cao (Grass Jelly) on sale in a Hakka delicacies shop.
In Taiwan, sweet jellies are an important part of the Chinese desserts.
Xian Cao is one of them.
The English name for Xian Cao is "Grass Jelly". Xian Cao is a black jelly extracted from a plant of the mint family.
The taste is quite different from mint, anyway.
It has a kind of medicinal herbs fragrance, such as an italian "amaro", yet more delicate and refreshing.
In summer you eat Xian Cao as little cubes on which shaved ice is added and sugar syrup or condensed milk are poured.
Aiyu Jelly is an authentic Taiwan dessert.
Aiyu is a climbing plant of the figs family that grows in Taiwan mountains between 1000 and 1800 meters of altitude, mainly in Alishan area.
The seeds, lightly pressed and "rubbed", secrete a yellowish jelly. Aiyu Jelly is served cold with lemon juice or honey.
It is a typical refreshing summer dessert.
According to the legend the name Aiyu, which literally means "Beloved Jade," was the name of a girl, the daughter of the discoverer of this Taiwanese delicacy.
Most likely however the name comes from Tsou aborigines, that obviously already knew the Aiyu plant before the arrival of Chinese in Taiwan.
Chinese Desserts - Grass Jelly and Lei Cha drinks in a Hakka restaurant in Sanyi.
Leicha is a delicacy of the Hakka, the population that in the last centuries migrated to Taiwan from Guangdong (southern China).
You pound tea leaves, sesame seeds and peanuts, all together in a mortar. More than often, you can add more ingredients such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pine kernel and puffed rice.
Pounding and grinding produces a sticky paste on which finally hot water is poured. As Hakka people say, the finer the paste, the better the Leicha.
Often, in restaurants and teahouses where Leicha is served, customers are provided with the raw ingredients, a mortar and a pestle - the latter made with guava wood - so they can have fun in preparing their own Leicha.
We normally use a less atmospheric but much more convenient blender to prepare our own Leicha.
The original Leicha, prepared by Hakka people in Southern China, is savory, a kind of hot soup with vegetables and tea.
The Taiwanese version, as described above, is a sweet thick and, served hot or cold, is considered an excellent and nutritious breakfast for the colder months. I might say, a kind of Hakka muesli!
Mochi - also spelled as Moji - is a soft Japanese dessert made basically with glutinous rice paste, with a rounded shape, often enriched with all kind of sweets such as red beans, walnuts, coconut powder and so on.
This Japanese mochi, that in the country of the Rising Sun is typically offered on the New Year, is very popular in Taiwan too. Good Japanese moji is sold in special shops that can be normally found in department stores.
Mochi in Taiwan is also a Chinese dessert, or more precisely, a Hakka dessert. This Hakka version is much simpler than the Japanese. It consists in plain handmade mochi, served with just a sprinkling of peanut powder on top.
The stress is on the simplicity and freshness of ingredient.
It is a tradition for Hakka women to prepare moji for wedding banquets. Mochi round shape symbolizes the union, the stickyness ... the cohesion of the couple :))
In the picture below you can see my wife's relatives preparing mochi for a cousin wedding.
Chinese Desserts: Hakka women preparing moji for a wedding
Many restaurants offer mocha as a complimentary dessert. For this, they often serve mochi or a small cup of azuki beans. Mochi has become one of my favourite desserts here in Taiwan.
Anyway everytime I eat it I remember that, because of its stickiness and size, is the perfect plug for your throat.
Indeed, each year several dozens people, mostly elderly, choke to death because of a mochi, I am not joking! So watch out, especially with kids, better to cut your mochi into small pieces before serving it.
Moon Cakes: Hong Kong style
Moon cakes are normally eaten during the Moon Festival, one of the most popular celebrations in China and Taiwan.
If you happen to be in Taiwan during the Moon Festival - also known as Mid-Autumn Festival - it can be that someone will give you Moon Cakes as a present. Traditionally people exchange beautifully decorated boxes of moon cakes during this time of year. For example employers give them to their employees.
Do not worry if, instead, you are not in Taiwan during September, since moon cakes are available all year round.
Moon Cakes are round pastries, with a thin crust and different kind of fillings. Often they are decorated with chinese characters.
Classic Yuebing, as they are called in Mandarin, have a filling of azuki bean paste or lotus seed paste, and often a salty duck egg (Dan Ya Xian)
Taiwanese Yuebing have also a filling of mung beans paste.
Chinese Desserts: Moon Cake in Taiwan style with mung bean paste
Today however there are many different versions of mooncakes. For instance mooncakes with walnuts or almonds, and even delicate moon cakes with green tea flavor.
Moon Cakes are great chinese desserts, no doubt even suited to the western taste. Like all good things, alas, they are a high-calorie food...
Chinese Desserts: Xibing (Double Happiness) Engagement Cakes.
For sure you will not find these special Chinese desserts in restaurants :))
You will receive one or two XiBing if you are invited to an engagement banquet as a friend or relative of the future bride ... if you are the groom-to-be for a Taiwanese girl you have to open your wallet, buy a bulk of XiBing and give them to your fiancé family. They will distribute the cakes, as I said, to friends and relatives.
That is what happened to me ... to open my wallet and buy the cakes, I mean.
These Engagement Cakes - the chinese name XiBing literally means Double Happiness Cake - can have a rectangular (Southern Taiwan) or round shape (Northern Taiwan).
XiBing can be sweet, with dates, nuts or, as usual, azuki paste or lotus seed paste. They can also be sweet and savory with, incredible, a filling made with pork floss and winter melon ...
As you know, Chinese people like pork ...
Unfortunately nowadays more and more young couples believe it is "cool" to offer western sweets to their guests. Western sweets in Taiwan are often dull and uninteresting. On the contrary, the beautifully decorated XiBing are full of character and taste ... yes, the ones with pork too.
You can find more details about Xibing in this page about Double Happiness Cakes.
Chinese Desserts: Feng Li Su - Pineapple Cake.
Fengli Su are a famous delicacy from Taichung.
Fengli Su are small squarish pastries, with a buttery crust and a filling of pineapple paste. Sometimes the filling, despite its name, contains dong gua (wax gourd or winter melon). Dong gua is cheaper than pineapple, anyway some people prefer this way because the dong gua is less fibery than pineapple.
Still the name Fengli Su - pineapple cake - is kept as a wish of good luck and prosperity. In Taiwanese "pineapple" has the same pronunciation of "wealth comes".
Pineapple Cakes are authentic Taiwanese sweets, and among the best ones, they make a great souvenir to bring back home.
Suncake from Taichung.
One more delicacy from Taichung, Suncakes are disk-shaped flaky pastries, filled with a small amount of maltose, just to sweeten without becoming cloying.
It seems their name is related to the name of the bakery, that still exists, that invented them. Sun Cakes are also good. Personally I feel Fengli Su is more tasty and interesting.
Most of Chinese restaurants in Italy usually offer fried ice cream ... It never happened to me to find it on a menu here in Taiwan. I would not say that fried ice cream does not belong to Chinese desserts but definitely not here to Taiwan ...