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Do you think of ice-cream and sweet pastries when we say desserts? Maybe you also think of them as guilty pleasures? Well, there’s another category of sweet comfort food in Asian cuisines—dessert soups, and they’re often more ‘guilt-free’ than you may expect. In fact, some are made of traditional ingredients with medicinal properties; others have nutritious tubers or fruits. All of them are yummy and wholesome.
Although the exact history is lost to time, the oldest dessert soups can be broadly traced to the Southern Chinese Lingnan region, which covers Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, Hong Kong, Macau and other minor provinces. From which, a plethora of dessert soups had emerged over the centuries, with many recipes still enjoyed today; and had spread globally with the Chinese diaspora.
These dessert soups are collectively called Tong Sui, and the term literally means ‘sugared water’. But they are actually a lot less sugary than other desserts; and believed to have a healing, soothing effect instead of mere sweet-tooth cravings. They are savoured as after-meal desserts to aid digestion, or between-meal treats to brighten your mood and taste-buds. It is common to find dessert soup stalls and diners in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong; similar to Western-style pastry cafés. Dessert soups are also often served as an add-on in Chinese restaurants, and the last dish in banquets.
They aren’t exclusive to China either. Southeast Asian cultures have their own dessert soups as well, with ingredients unique to their tropical regions; also tasty and soothing.
Yummy for all seasons, enjoyed hot or cold, Asian dessert soups are a year-round comfort treat you can make at home. Just visit your local Asian grocer to find the ingredients, and get started with these 12 enchanting favourites:
Peach Gum Soup
Peach gum is the edible resin naturally solidified on peach trees. In traditional Chinese medicine, these amber goodies are known to alleviate thirst, maintain gut health, strengthen your immune system and relieve stress. When soaked in hot water, peach gum softens into a jelly-like texture, and exudes a rich yet soothing sweetness. Cooked with fruity red dates, longan and goji berries in this lovely dessert soup. An all-time Chinese delight!
Pear & Red Dates Soup
Red dates and goji berries are the most ubiquitous ingredients in Chinese dessert soups. The dates bring a fruity aroma and soft chewy texture, while the berries add a subtle nutty taste. Boiled together with pears to create a dessert soup that’s layered with natural sweetness. Try it with our authentic recipe!
Pear & Snow Fungus Soup
Also known as White Fungus, the Chinese Snow Fungus is actually an edible frond-shaped mushroom. High in fiber, low in calories, packed with vitamins, minerals and a host of health benefits. Snow fungus is sold in dried form, but soaking overnight in clean water will soften them into a tender bouncy texture. Boil them with pears, red dates and goji berries to make this classic Chinese dessert soup.
Lotus Seed Dessert
Leng Chee Kang is a beloved Chinese dessert soup. Made with crumbly lotus seeds, chewy snow fungus, soft ginkgo nuts, crunchy malva nut, lily bulbs and basic seeds for a robust, comforting sweetness. Added with red dates and longan for extra fruity enjoyment. Make yours fresh with our recipe.
Tofu skin with Gingko & Barley Dessert
This sweet comfort delight is among the most common dessert soups you’ll find at Chinese diners, and is also a household darling. Fu Chuk Yi Mai is named after its two basic ingredients: silky soft tofu skin and tender barley grains. Paired with red dates for subtle fruity sweetness and aroma; plus gingko nuts for the soft, nutty bite.
Laos Corn Sago Dessert
Laos is the landlocked nation between Thailand and Vietnam, with many gastronomic delights made from shared ingredients across the Southeast Asian cultures. Sago is one such ingredient, a unique palm starch with a tiny pearls-like shape that softens in water. In Laos cuisine, sago, corn and coconut milk makes the Nam Van Sal Lee – sweet creamy dessert soup with an appetizing nutty aroma. A popular street food favourite!
Sweet Sago in Coconut Milk
Sago is also pleasantly soft and crumbly on its own with coconut milk. This Thai sweet-savoury dessert soup is a fine example. Super easy to make and absolutely joyful to taste!
Sweet Sago with Rock Melon Dessert
Thai desserts often feature fruits, even in dessert soups. Here’s a wholesome milky delight with sweet sago and rock melon that’s yummy warm or iced. Instant pleasure in every sip.
Sweet Mung Bean Soup
Mung beans are the ‘seeds’ of green bean sprouts, often sold in dried form. Rich in amino acids, antioxidants and nutrients. They have a subtle nutty aroma. When boiled in hot water, mung beans soften into a tasty, flaky texture. Wholesome and soothing in this easy sweet Thai dessert soup.
Red Bean Soup
Red beans or adzuki beans belong to the same legumes family as mung beans. Often mashed into a paste to make Japanese desserts such as Dorayaki pancakes and Mochi. In Malaysian cuisine, however, red beans are soaked and boiled whole with coconut milk and sago to make this nutty sweet dessert soup with a creamy soft touch. Try it with our recipe!
Nyonya Sweet Broth
Pengat is a traditional festive dessert soup for the Lantern Festival at the end of Lunar New Year – exclusive to the Malaysian island of Penang. A Nyonya-style sweet broth with a good helping of awesome sweet potatoes, yam and banana. Made creamy with coconut cream, and enriched with pandan fragrance. Fruity and sweet to sip, with a subtle earthy aroma and lots of tender, yummy morsels to bite!
Bubur Cha Cha
Bubur Cha Cha is like a simplified version of Pengat; enjoyed year-round as an afternoon dessert soup among all Malaysians. Also packed with sweet potatoes and yam, plus tapioca flour cubes for more chewy bites; and made enticingly colourful. Have it warm or cold with our recipe!
More Asian Desserts
Want more Asian desserts to sate your cravings? Come discover the 14 signature must-try delights, the tasteful goodies you can make with coconut milk and cream, and 12 lovely Asian pastries that are sure to please!