The diversity in Taiwanese culture and tradition can be seen in their food, including desserts. While some desserts have their roots in Taiwan, a few, such as Ma Lai Go and Mochi bear Japanese and Chinese influences. Overall, Taiwanese sweets are all about jellies, cakes, and pastries of varying textures. Some like Douhua and Ma Lai Go have a creamy texture that quickly melts in the mouth. A few, like Fènglísū, Suncake, and Yuebing, appear flaky and crumbly on the outer side but sweet and soft within. As these desserts are not overly sweet, anyone can enjoy them.
Bao Bing is the Taiwanese variant of shaved ice enjoyed all year round. Though a whole lot of toppings give it its sweetness, the common ones include adzuki beans, mung beans, tapioca balls, condensed milk, and sugar water. Fresh fruits also go into its preparation, varying according to the season. In summer, mango bao bing is quite popular, while strawberry bao bing is common in winter. It is a refreshing dessert with a smooth and creamy texture that immediately melts in your mouth as you relish the sweet and fruity flavors.
Fènglísū are delicious pineapple cakes symbolizing good luck. There goes an interesting story behind its history, dating back to the time of the Three Kingdoms Dynasty. The Shu kingdom’s emperor wished to solemnize nuptial ties with the sister of the emperor of Wu kingdom. So he sent a huge pineapple cake to present his proposal. That was history, cut to the present times, the cake is not as big as it traditionally was.
It consists of a golden-brown, buttery crust with a slightly sweet and tangy pineapple jam filling. Sometimes, winter melon also goes into the filling or is used as a replacement for pineapple. A best-seller in Taiwan, these crumbly snack delights go well with a cup of hot tea.
Suncakes are traditional sugary treats, commonly sold as souvenirs in sweet shops, packed in enticing gift boxes. Their origin dates back to the Qing Dynasty period. Typically, they consist of condensed malt sugar, called maltose, as their filling. The outer crust is prepared with phyllo-dough, rolled into paper-thin layers. They are then given the round shape like the sun and baked till golden-brown, which is how they get the name.
Thick and gooey, its filling tastes sweeter than honey and is well-contrasted with flaky, buttery pastry. Many enjoy these with hot tea or milk. Some people also like them as a porridge-like dessert, made simply by dissolving them entirely in hot water.
Peanut powdered mochi are tasty bite-sized treats prepared with glutinous rice flour and sugar. They’re shaped into balls and coated with peanut powder. Sometimes sesame powder is also included in the coating. Slightly sweet and chewy, they are immediately served after preparation, with a hot beverage as accompaniment. One could find these tasty treats in most street carts.
Bunun Millet Cake is a sweet item, also popular as a staple food in many other Asian countries. The indigenous Bunan people traditionally prepared it using millet grits soaked, cooked and pounded into a dough. It is then steamed inside a banana leaf. Topping of honey makes it sweet and tasty.
Sticky and rich in calories, they make an ideal breakfast item that provides energy for the whole day. Its procedure and appearance bear close resemblance with a Philippines traditional food, Suman, made with rice instead of millet.
Douhua, or tofu pudding, is a traditional dessert having a soft and incredibly smooth texture. It has soybeans as its main ingredient, alongside water, and a coagulant such as gypsum, agar-agar, or gelatin. It goes as a side dish with sweet gingery syrup or mung beans in Taiwan. Toppings of peanuts and taro balls elevate its taste. In other versions, a savory gravy alongside chili oil and pickles go as accompaniments.
Xian Cao or grass jelly is a favorite jelly dessert prepared from a mint extract. It is dark in color with a herb-like mild bitter taste. It is usually shaped into cubes and served cold by adding shaved ice, condensed milk, or bubble tea on hot days. You can also relish it hot in winter by melting it to form a sweet and thick liquid. If craving for a sweet and flavorful soup, don’t forget to add toppings like taro balls or adzuki beans.
Aiyu Jelly is an authentic Taiwanese dessert beverage prepared from the seed of a unique creeping fig found in Taiwan. It is quite an easy procedure to extract the jelly. The seeds are put in a cloth, rinsed, and rubbed until they secrete the jelly-like substance. A refreshing summer treat, they are served cold by mixing with lime or lemon juice and topping with honey. The combination of sour, slightly tangy, and sweet flavors makes it an ideal drink to have after eating a savory meal. You could find this dessert drink everywhere, from bubble tea shops to local stores, to night markets.
Yuebings are delicious pastries, mainly enjoyed during the Moon Festival, also known as Mid-Autumn Festival. Their round moon-like shape symbolizes completeness and unity. They’re sold in every bakery shop inside fancy boxes, often gifted to relatives or friends on this day to wish them love and wellness.
These moon cakes have a golden, flaky crust with a filling of mung bean paste and duck egg yolks. The combination of sweet and salty flavors generates a heavenly taste. Other authentic Chinese versions include lotus seed paste or azuki bean paste and egg yolks as fillings. All of these are typically marked in red dots or seal on top. The Cantonese-styled mooncakes are pressed into molds to give them attractive shapes and patterns.
Taiwanese Peanut Brittle is a tasty treat made of peanuts, oil, sugar, salt, and water. Sesame seeds are also commonly used. Its name is due to its brittle texture as it breaks right away when bitten. Sweet and crunchy, the candy has a rich and nutty taste. Though typically enjoyed during the Chinese New Year, peanut brittles are a favorite all year round.
Ma Lai Go is a delicious cake of China, enjoyed in most Taiwanese households. Its name ‘Ma Lai’ means Malay, and ‘go’ means cake, probably referring to its Malaysian origin. The main ingredients include flour, eggs, milk, baking powder, vanilla extract, and brown sugar, responsible for its color. The steam method used traditionally accounts for a soft, moist, and fluffy cake. This delicious sweet item is best served warm or at room temperature with a hot cup of jasmine tea.
Wheel cakes are the Taiwanese versions of traditional Japanese Imagawayaki. It is round, consisting of a golden-brown outside, stuffed with a smooth red bean paste. The filling has a sweet and earthy taste, perfectly contrasting the pancake-like outer layer. A signature street food, many variations exist now with different flavors. Among these, the savory ones also have curry and radish on the inside.
Whether you’re planning to travel to Taiwan or not, these desserts are a must-try to enjoy the different flavors and textures each of them has to offer. Other lip-smacking sweet delights worth mentioning are Taiwanese black sesame bun, Xibing (Engagement Cakes), and Candied Haw on Stick.
Authentic Taiwanese Dessert: Douhua, Wheel Cake, Bunun Millet Cake
Best Taiwanese Holiday Dessert: Taiwanese Peanut Brittle, Yuebing (Moon Cake),Fènglísū
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