15 of the best desserts around the world
Belgium waffle with chocolate sauce and strawberries. Photo: Sira Anamwong / Shutterstock
As culinary revolutions continue to reach far-flung destinations around the globe, people are travelling to unlikely countries to seek out their foods, rather than in spite of them. While desserts may not be eaten at all in certain regions (including large swathes of Africa), in others they truly invigorate the senses…
A delightful Japanese dessert (although sometimes also used in savoury cooking), mochi is made from sweet, glutinous rice that is pounded into a mouldable paste. The final shape is then cut (usually into cakes or blocks). Slightly chewy, mochi is often flavoured, coloured, stuffed and/or served with ice cream. Typically eaten all year round, but especially favoured at New Year celebrations. Sample mochi and other Japanese foodie treats on Insight Guides’ Japan Culinary Sensation trip.
2. Crème brûlée
There is some disagreement about where the crème brûlée originated, with France, the UK and Spain all claiming this exquisite dessert. Whatever its birthplace, the crème brûlée is both classic and delicious. A dish with a soft, creamy custard filling topped with caramelised sugar that provides some crunch and texture. To try the French version, book on to Insight Guides’ Luxury Paris tour.
3. Indian sweets
Whatever you feel about them, Indian sweets certainly pack a punch. Syrup covered, cooked in clarified butter, displayed in mountains of lurid green, pink and yellow, these treats are as bright and sugary as you can get. Love them or hate them, they are as distinctive and sensual as India itself. Insight Guides’ India: from the Ganges to the Golden Triangle includes several must-see sights – just make sure you tuck into a stash or two of sweets along the way.
4. Dadar gulung
This popular Indonesian speciality is a sweet coconut pancake roll. Not for the fainthearted – it comes in a lurid green (created by daun pandan paste which serves as green food colouring; pictured below). The batter is made from flour, salt, eggs and coconut milk; the filling from grated coconut, palm sugar, salt, cinnamon and water. Dadar gulung is found throughout Indonesia, and is also popular in Malaysia. Visit Indonesia on Insight Guides’ Indonesia Island Hop tour to try it for yourself.
Literally the Italian word for ice cream, gelato is a soft, cool dessert found throughout Italy. Usually presented in shops in lined trays in a vast array of colours and flavours, with perfect peaks, gelato is a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. A cone will prove especially popular in the hot Italian sun on Insight Guides’ Florence: A Trip Back in Time tour.
New ice-cream flavours are also becoming increasingly popular around the world. One of the most innovative flavours to take off recently has been matcha or ‘green tea’ ice cream, created in Japan – now available in cities such as London and Berlin. Try matcha ice cream in Japan on our Japan Cultural Discovery trip.
Dadar gulung, is made from glutinous rice and often comes in a lurid green colour... Photo: Sean Liew / Shutterstock
6. Tropical fruit
Simple is sometimes the best, and fresh exotic fruit is certain to delight (and, if it’s hot, quench your thirst). Visiting a roadside stall in Sri Lanka on Insight Guides’ Perfectly Sri Lanka trip will reveal an abundance of juicy fruits: mango, guava, passion fruit, pineapple, pomegranate, mangosteen (a purple fruit that tastes something like a grape) and rambutan (don’t be put off by its red, hairy exterior, the inside is like a lychee). Be tentative however – fruit could be washed with tap water, so clean your purchase thoroughly or pick something you can peel.
This typical Argentine dessert is traditionally eaten on Argentine Independence Day. Made of puff pastry, pastelitos are deep fried and filled with sweet quince (common) or sweet potato (slightly less common). The crunchy pastry is topped with a sprinkling of sugar or jam. Enjoyed throughout Argentina, you can try pastelitos on Insight Guides’ Argentina: Tango and Glaciers trip.
8. Milk tart
Milk tart or melktert (in Afrikaans) is a South African dessert, similar to a custard tart (particularly the Portuguese pastéis de nata) but created with a higher milk content, making it lighter. Cinnamon is a popular additional ingredient, commonly sprinkled over the top. It can also be used to infuse the milk for the filling. Enjoy a creamy milk tart in South Africa’s vibrant capital citycity of Cape Town on our Cape Amazing: Cape Town Explored trip.
Baklava, originating in the Ottoman Empire, is a delicious and juicy dessert or sweet. Formed with layers of filo pastry, baklava is filled with nuts and bound together using honey or syrup. Coffee makes an excellent accompaniment, balancing out baklava’s sweetness.
Found in numerous countries around the world – including Turkey, Greece, and various areas of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa – baklava is subject to regional variation. Nuts vary: pistachios, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts; cinnamon and cloves may also be used, and sometimes a preparation called kaymak; shape and size changes; and some use a rose-water syrup.
10. Khanom mo kaeng
This traditional Thai dessert – at its best in Phetchaburi, a city on south Thailand’s coast where the best palm sugar in the country is made – is a moreish pudding made with eggs, palm sugar, salt, coconut milk and shallots. This renowned dessert was created in Ayutthaya during the 17th century and presented before King Narai. Insight Guides’ Bangkok Gourmet trip provides a chance to sample some of the best cuisine that Thailand has to offer.
Khanom Maw Kaeng: an ideal Thai dessert. Photo: Shutterstock
11. Torta de Santiago
Torta de Santiago, a fragrant almond cake, originated in Galicia, Spain, in the Middle Ages. Literally ‘cake of Saint James’, the torta de Santiago lines pastry-shop windows, decorated with powdered sugar and the cross of the Order of Santiago. Delicate almond and orange flavours permeate this moist cake, which is enjoyed all over Spain. The torta de Santiago was granted Protected Geographical Status by the EU in 2010. Enjoy this Spanish classic in the capital on our Made for Madrid tour.
12. Dragon beard candy
China’s delicate dragon beard candy is highly sugared, with spindly strands of dough wrapped around a filling of nuts, sesame seeds, chocolate or desecrated coconut (fillings vary regionally). Legend has it that dragon beard candy was first created during the Han Dynasty by the Emperor’s imperial chef. The Emperor, watching the dessert being made, was amused by the sweet’s resemblance to a dragon’s beard – hence its name. Dragon beard candy is often sold in China by street vendors, who perform the elaborate process of making it in front of enthralled customers and tourists. Enjoy dragon beard candy and other Chinese delicacies on Insight Guides’ The Best of China trip.
13. Belgian waffles and chocolate
An iconic Belgian dessert, the waffle is characterised by squares of light batter. Instantly recognisable, it is worth noting that there is no such thing as a ‘Belgian waffle’ in Belgium itself; they have numerous varieties, including the Brussels waffle, the Liège waffle, and the Flemmish waffle. And what better to accompany this delicious dessert than a drizzle of melted Belgian chocolate. Belgium’s association with chocolate dates back to the 17th century, and today the country is famed for producing some of the finest chocolate in Europe.
14. Suspiro de Limeña
This Peruvian treat, literally the ‘sigh of Lima’, is a delicious, if – again – a sickly sweet dessert. The base is manjar blanco (or dulce de leche), a substance created by slowly heating sweetened milk, which resembles caramel. Topped with a creamy liqueur meringue, crowned with a sprinkling of cinnamon, and served with an accompaniment if you wish – try some berries to balance out the sweet flavours. Visit Peru on our Peru Express trip and try your first suspiro de Limeña.
There is nothing quite like halva, the distinctive, dense and sweet confection found in many regions across the Middle East, Asia, North Africa and Europe. Usually made from tahini, nut butter or seed butter, halva is sweetened with sugar and can include sunflower seeds, nuts and even vegetables. Halva is often presented in a large block, which you can chip away at slowly (it keeps well). The texture can be crumbly, fudge-like, fluffy or creamy (or all at once). This unique dessert can be enjoyed in Jordan, where halva often includes pistachios, almonds or chocolate – book on to Insight Guides’ Discover Jordan trip today.
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