Shanghai’s best Chinese desserts

Shanghai’s best Chinese desserts

Shanghai has a serious sweet tooth, and local venues line up to give us a fix, with everything from fruit-inspired creations to old-school standbys

Recommended: Mango coconut sago, Hui Lau Shan

 Shanghai’s Desserts at Hui Lau Shan can be summed up in one word: Mango. Their leader? The mango coconut sago.

Does the sight of mango fill your heart with joy? Then Hui Lau Shan's mango coconut sago is your Disneyland.

The creamy mango coconut sago is a favorite with restaurant devotees, especially chef Anthony Zhao, who admittedly loves the dish topped with coconut cream and shreds of juicy mango.

If you love mango in any form, this famous Hong Kong dessert chain offers a menu entirely dominated by the fruit. And you won’t find any hard, tough unripe mangos here -- year-round Hui Lau Shan manages to offer incredibly sweet, perfectly ripe fruits in their massive assortment of tropical desserts.

The menu includes all manner of Asian ingredients, but in nearly every dish you’re bound to find mango: mango ice cream, mango pureed into soup with sago, mango diced and sprinkled over even more mango, and the list goes on.

Hui Lau Shan, multiple locations, Rm. 101, 300 Huaihai Zhong Lu, Hong Kong New World Tower, near Huangpi Nan Lu 淮海中路300号101室, 近黄陂南路, +86 21 6335 3163, hours: 10 a.m to 10 p.m

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Recommended: Ice cream, Tiandi

 Shanghai’s best Chinese desserts - TiandiThese ice cream scoops at Tiandi bring back Old Shanghai flavors.

Pop into ultra-exclusive contemporary Chinese restaurant Tiandi after dinner. Take in the gorgeous art deco surroundings and the Bund view. And then, order the ice cream.

“It's not smooth like ice cream we have now,” says Shen Hongfei, one of China’s best-known food critics. “It's sweeter and has ice shards, just like the first ice cream I ever had.”

Tiandi re-creates the flavors and textures of the ice cream that many older Shanghainese remember once saving up their jiao to enjoy.

The scoops come in iconic Old Shanghai flavors like White Rabbit candy, sweet hawthorn fruit and saltwater soda.

Food personalities Hongfei and Jiang Liyang agree that this ice cream lacks the smooth texture of gelato, but it definitely recalls the sweet taste of childhood in Shanghai.

Tiandi, 3/F Bund 6, Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Jiujiang Lu 中山东一路外滩6号3楼, 近九江路, +86 21 6329 7333, 11 a.m. to midnight

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Recommended: Anything frozen, Charmant

 Shanghai’s best Chinese desserts - CharmantA mountain of ice never looked so good as it does at Charmant around 4 a.m.

Charmant is open until 4 a.m. and you’ll rarely find it short of hopping. It's among the best late-night options for Shanghai’s sweet-toothed masses; in fact, the desserts are quite possibly better then the dishes on the regular dining menu.

There are a couple of must-tries, but topping the list is a mountain of a peanut "smoothie," an intensely fragrant concoction of creamy peanut butter and finely shaved ice. 

If you don't like peanut butter, try the new condensed milk chua bing (ask for extra condensed milk) with taro and sweet yam, or the luscious (there’s really no other word to describe it) watermelon sago with coconut.

As temperatures drop, pair Charmant's frozen treats with a mug of thick, hot chocolate paired with marshmallow. It might truly be a dark chocolate bar melted into a cup -- exactly how hot chocolate was meant to be.

Charmant, 1414 Huaihai Lu, near Fuxing Lu 淮海路1414号, 近复兴路, +86 21 6431 8107, 6421 8027, 10 a.m. to 4 a.m.

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Recommended: Hazelnut cream cake, Kaisiling (KSL)

 Shanghai’s best Chinese desserts - KSL"Flung" cream might not be the prettiest confection, but it's oh so good on KSL's hazelnut cake.

One of the first bakeries in town, Kaisiling's original shop on Nanjing Xi Lu has been turning out Shanghainese approved sweets for decades now.

KSL's signature product is its throwback hazelnut cream “cake” (actually a creamy puree of sweet hazelnuts topped with fresh "flung" cream), which it sells in tissue-wrapped, single-serving orbs.

Ganlan Canting editor Rica Lou says, “The flung cream at Kaisiling [essentially whipped cream] is my favorite old-school Shanghainese dessert." 

The flung cream is delicious when eaten alone, and even better on KSL's hazelnut cake.

Kaisiling, 1001 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Maoming Lu 南京西路1001号, 近茂名北路, +86 21 6267 5602, hours: 9:30 a.m to 9 p.m.

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Winner: Snow White sago, Honeymoon Dessert

 Shanghai’s best Chinese desserts - honeymoonSnow White may have had her dwarfs, but we have her sago.

Take a hole-in-the-wall Hong Kong dessert shop, adopt some cute monster mascots, swap the porcelain for equal-opportunity plastic and you have Honeymoon Dessert. This polished international brand grew out of a family-owned homemade sweet shop in Sai Kung, a far-flung village in Hong Kong.

Now a successful chain, Honeymoon may be the closest we in Shanghai can get to Hong Kong's tong shui shops without booking a flight.

Rica Lou, a senior food editor for Chinese-language Ganlan Canting magazine, says, “I love the Snow White sago, a creamy dessert soup. It’s a specialty at Honeymoon.”

Snow White sago has chunks of banana, mango and dried longan, topped with sago and basil seeds.

The Snow White sago is characteristic of the desserts at Honeymoon, which incorporate fresh tropical fruits and traditional Asian ingredients like sticky rice and grass jelly. Their creations are delicious across the board, from stewed papaya with white fungus to sesame and walnut soup.

They even offer desserts with the notorious durian, making Honeymoon one of the few spots in town to serve this divisive, odorous fruit.

The interior decor, which combines cozy with convenience, is more conducive to conversation than Bellagio. Another plus: there are none of the late-night chain smokers who haunt similar venues around the city.

Honeymoon Dessert, multiple locations, Rm. 3431, 3/F, Cloud 9 Shopping Center, 1018 Changning Lu, near Kaixuan Lu 长宁路1018号龙之梦购物中心3楼3431商铺, 近凯旋路, +86 21 3372 7360, www.honeymoon-dessert.com, 10 a.m to 10 p.m.

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Meet the experts who helped us choose Shanghai's Best Eats.

Full Best Eats list and winners
Joanne Yao is a writer and editor based in Shanghai.
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