When we think of desserts, cakes, puddings, and ice creams usually come to mind. In Hong Kong, however, the perfect end to a meal almost always, but not exclusively, comes in the form of a bowl of warm soup or sweet custard. These traditional Cantonese desserts are collectively known as tong sui (糖水)—quite literally translated as “sugar water”—and are a must-try if you want to eat like a true Hongkonger.
Not only are Cantonese dessert soups delicious, they’re also (allegedly) good for you. Each shop has their own secret recipes, some even passed down through the generations, but the base of most consists of milk, beans, herbs, and fruits. They’re available year-round, but as the temperatures drop, the demand for a heartwarming bowl of tong sui rises. Don’t know where to start? We’ve created a handy guide to Cantonese desserts for you so you can focus on the most important thing: satisfying your sweet tooth!
Photo courtesy of @sadnessml
Tofu pudding 豆腐花
Tofu pudding is a smooth and silky beancurd concoction steamed in wooden or bamboo barrels and most commonly served with ginger syrup or red sugar. It’s a simple dessert that really showcases the versatility of tofu as a key ingredient in Chinese food. Have it hot or cold, it still melts in your mouth.
If you find yourself in Tai Po, check out Granny’s Tofu Pudding, a stall that's famous amongst local foodies for their heaping bowls of tofu pudding. There are only about 4 seats inside the stall so you'll have to enjoy this fragrant treat standing up.
Legs too tired? Kung Wo Tofu in Sham Shui Po is a blast from the past with heaps of seats where you can sit down and enjoy your favourite soybean products, but especially their tofu pudding. They recently got a nod from the Michelin guide too.
Granny’s Tofu Pudding
, Shop 2A, Tai Kwong Lane, Tai Po
Kung Wo Tofu
, 118 Pei Ho Street, Sham Shui Po
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Photo courtesy of @carmen4321 and @starches_life.king
Red bean soup and mung bean soup 紅豆沙/綠豆沙
Red bean or mung bean soup is definitely an acquired taste, but it’s one of the healthiest dessert choices around. The beans are cooked down with sugar and water and medicinal herbs and dried fruits are usually added for flavour. Mung bean soup is sometimes served with kelp, as well. The resulting texture is a bit sandy, hence its name in Cantonese literally being “bean sand”. Red bean soup is good for reducing bloating, while mung bean soup has been found to aid those with high blood pressure and cholesterol problems.
A lot of local families make red bean soup and mung bean soup at home, but if you'd prefer to let someone else do the heavy lifting, head to Kai Kai Dessert in Jordan, a traditional style Cantonese dessert shop that had lines going down the street after their inclusion in the Michelin "recommended street food" section. Order the red bean and mung bean soup combo for double the benefits. Another traditional shop to hit up for a hearty soup bowl is Luk Lam Dessert. Luk Lam offers heaps of custom options, allowing you to add on ingredients like glutinous rice balls and even ice cream and oreo bits.
Kai Kai Dessert, 29 Ning Po Street, Jordan | (+852) 2384 3862
Luk Lam Dessert
, 77-79 Un Chau Street, Sham Shui Po | (+852) 2361 4205
Photo courtesy of @cathyliuliuzi
Black sesame soup 芝麻糊
Black sesame soup is a polarising dessert, but you'll quickly learn to not judge it on its dark appearance. A rich and velvety soup made with both white and black sesame seeds, black sesame soup is super beneficial for nourishing your body inside and out as well as promoting hair growth.
Dai Leung Hung Fai Kee is a bit off the beaten path but famous for their handground seeds and nuts soups. Batches are made fresh daily inside the cosy shop and the rich pastes can be made from black sesame, sweet almond, walnut and peanut.
Dai Leung Hung Fai Kee
, 8 Chuen Lung Street, Tsuen Wan | (+852) 2419 7711
Read more! Craving more sweet treats? Read our guide to traditional Hong Kong and Chinese pastries.
Photo courtesy of @yuirene
Glutinous rice balls 湯圓
Glutinous rice balls are typically eaten during Chinese New Year or Mid-Autumn Festival as a symbol of familial reunion and love. These soft and chewy morsels of goodness are usually packed with black sesame paste, red bean baste or peanut paste, and wrapped in a layer of glutinous rice flour. You can have the rice balls plain or in different varieties of other Chinese dessert soups like black sesame soup or sweet potato soup. Careful not to burn your tongue as the perfect rice ball should have the fillings spilling out when you bite into them.
Fuk Yuen in North Point is famous for their homemade glutinous rice balls. Handrolled fresh everyday with all your favourite fillings, Fuk Yuen’s rice balls come in portions of 4 or 5 and are served in your choice of base (we like the almond milk, which doesn’t overpower the sweet dumplings). Fuk Yuen also offers a dry version of the dumplings, where you toss them in ground peanut, coconut shavings and sugar. The crowds brave the cold to sit in the makeshift open-air dining area outside Fuk Yuen just to get their fill of these moreish rice balls, so you might want to get take-out.
Fuk Yuen, Shop I-1, G/F, Lei Do Building, 7 Fuk Yuen Street, North Point | (+852) 3106 0129
Photo courtesy of @landn.eats
Steamed egg custard and steamed milk custard 燉蛋; 雙皮奶
Those with lactose intolerance will never know the simple joy of steamed milk or egg custards. Like most Chinese desserts, it’s made with humble ingredients and can be whipped up in a jiffy. These sweet steamed custards have the same base: milk, eggs, sugar; the ratio is adjusted depending on what the end product is, and in the case of steamed milk custard ginger syrup is often added for a spicy kick. Served hot or cold, steamed egg and steamed milk custards are a simple comfort.
We can’t mention steamed custards without talking about the two iconic restaurants that are on every foodie’s Hong Kong must-eat list: Australia Dairy Company (not actually Australian) and Yee Shun Dairy Company. Both serve up a mean Hong Kong style breakfast (ADC has the best scrambled eggs in town) and their own styles of steamed custards. If you’re going to get one thing from either dairy company, go for the “Double skin milk egg custard”, a silky curd concoction made with buffalo milk, egg whites, and sugar. The double skin comes from the layers that form during the cooling of the boiled milk then the cooling of the cooked custard.
Australia Dairy Company
, 47 Parkes Street, Jordan | (+852) 2730 1356
Yee Shun Dairy Company
, locations across Hong Kong
Photo courtesy of @troytsai02
Mango sago 楊枝甘露
Mango sago is possibly the most iconic Cantonese dessert. A dessert so easily recognizable and truly from Hong Kong, mango sago is popular around the world in its wild variety of forms (mango sago bubble tea, anyone?) and is usually a foreigner’s first foray into Chinese style sweets. Made with succulent mangoes, fresh pomelo and chewy bits of sago (tapioca pearls), this dessert is served cold with evaporated milk or coconut milk drizzled on top.
If you’re not a fan of mangoes, sago pudding (西米露) can be made in combination with other fruits like taro, rock or honeydew melon, or simply cooked in coconut milk. Sago pudding is a great way to end a big meal as sago helps aid the digestive process as well as strengthen the spleen.
Kowloon City dessert granddaddy Tei Mou Koon may be famous for their traditional and more medicinal tong sui options, but they also serve up a mean mango sago. If you’re out with family for an authentic Thai dinner in the area, the little ones won’t have to worry about not having dessert options.
Tei Mou Koon Dessert
, G/F, 47 Fuk Lo Tsun Road, Kowloon City | (+852) 2382 5004
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