Unlike Western cultures where desserts are important after the meals, desserts seem to be missing or are not as prominent in Chinese cuisine. Though desserts are present in varied forms, most Chinese opt to end their meals by eating fruits which is deemed a healthier option than eating sweets for dessert. Chinese desserts are reserved for special occasions such as the Moon Festival and for entertaining guests. The variety of desserts are eaten as snacks, or along with tea, or included as a side dish of a meal. Chinese desserts are not as sweet as Western varieties and are often steamed instead of baked. Below is a list of the general categories under which Chinese desserts are often classified.
Chinese candies are called tang and encompasses different kinds of hard sweets that are made from cane sugar, malt sugar, and honey. Most of the candies have nuts and fruits in them to give the candy added flavor and texture. A popular candy which is sold in the streets is “tanghulu,” a fruit that sugar coated and glazed. Cotton candy, or “yinsitang,” is also a popular treat and is made from stringed sugar formed into a soft bundle.
Also called Gao, rice cakes are sticky and sweet and are prepared by steaming. This is a common method for cooking desserts because ovens are rarely used in China. A popular rice cake is “niangao,” which is filled with red bean paste and flavored with rosewater. Other kinds are “tangyuan” and “bai tang gao.” The texture, flavor, and appearance of rice cake are very different from Western pastries in that they are very simple with little to no decorations, and are either firm or jelly-like in consistency.
Chinese desserts of this kind are collectively known as “ices.” Jellies are typically made with agar and a variety of fruits for flavoring, but recently gelatin has also served as a substitute. A popular example is grass jelly which is made by boiling a mint-like plant in potassium carbonate and allowing it to cool at room temperature, after which it will be served with soy milk.