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If you ever get a little tired of supermarket ice cream, we have good news: The world is full of amazing and unique desserts waiting to be discovered. From Romanian “chimney cakes” to Hawaii’s beloved butter mochi, here are eight delicious examples to add to your international sweet tooth bucket list.
Kürtőskalács (Hungary and Romania)
In the mountainous region of Transylvania, kürtőskalács or “chimney cakes” have been enjoyed since at least the 18th century. The pastry is made by winding a strip of yeast dough around a metal cylinder, which is then rolled in sugar, basted with butter, and roasted over a charcoal fire. The flames cause the sugar to caramelize, creating a crispy outer crust. Cocoa, cinnamon, ground walnut, and dried coconut are often added, too. Although the cakes originated in the region of Transylvania called Székely Land, once part of the Kingdom of Hungary, kürtőskalács are now popular throughout both Romania and Hungary.
Halo-Halo (The Philippines)
The unofficial national dessert of the Philippines is a tantalizing cross between a fruit parfait, a Hawaiian shave ice, a boba tea, and a sundae. Halo-halo means “mix mix” in Tagalog, and it’s no mystery how it got its name. Endless permutations exist, but this colorful dessert’s core ingredients are shaved or crushed ice, sweetened condensed milk, sweetened beans, taro or yam, tapioca pearls (boba), agar jellies (gulaman), and purple ube (made from boiled and mashed purple yam) or ube-flavored ice cream. Less common ingredients include coconut milk, jackfruit, cooked plantains, toasted rice, and cheese.
Butter Mochi (Hawaii)
Beloved throughout Hawaii (and beyond), butter mochi is a little different from the Japanese mochi you may already know. They both share mochiko rice flour as the main ingredient, but butter mochi is lighter and softer (and as its name suggests, contains butter). Eggs and coconut milk also contribute to its signature texture, a combination of spongy, crackly, cakey, chewy, and rich. Butter mochi isn’t a fancy dessert; it’s baked in a pan and sliced into squares like brownies and is ever-present at Hawaiian potlucks and supermarkets.
Also known as Indian ice cream, sxusem (pronounced “s-ku-shem”) is a dessert made by many First Nation tribes throughout Canada. It’s thought to have been invented by Salish tribes in Eastern British Columbia. The dish is made from soapberries, also called buffaloberries, a more bitter cousin of sea buckthorn. The berries contain saponin, which cause them to foam up when whipped, and are often combined with sweeter fruits such as raspberries. Sxusem is similar in texture to whipped cream, and is both sweet and bitter, likened by some to the taste of coffee with sugar.
Bua Loy Nam Khing (Thailand)
Although these sweet treats are best known for their ties to Bangkok, locally they’re considered Thai-Chinese and are usually found in Bangkok’s Chinatown specifically. Small rice dumplings are filled with black sesame butter and steamed, then served swimming in a light ginger broth. Ginkgo nuts are sometimes added to the broth, and it can also be served in hot condensed milk or coconut milk instead. The ginger soup is spicy, the sesame filling is nutty and sweet, and the sticky rice dumplings burst open with flavor in your mouth. The dessert is a gorgeous balance between starchy and smooth, sweet and savory.
Mazamorra Morada (Peru)
Translating to “purple porridge,” this popular Peruvian dessert is made from purple corn, which is cooked with sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, pineapple, sweet potato flour, and dried fruit (such as apples, cherries, or prunes). The dried fruit becomes rehydrated in the process, and the result is a thick spiced pudding, dark purple in hue. It’s usually served cold and garnished with cinnamon and fresh fruit, often quince. This dish is typically eaten at the Señor de los Milagros (Lord of the Miracles) festival each October, celebrating an image of Jesus that was the only surviving item after a series of devastating earthquakes in Lima during the 17th century.
Lóng Xū Táng (China)
Lóng xū táng translates to “dragon beard candy,” and it’s similar in concept to cotton candy, although it has a secret bonus inside. The hand-pulled floss is made from sugar and maltose or corn syrup, pulled into strands and hardened, then formed around a filling, usually chopped peanuts or sesame seeds. The finished product resembles a bird’s nest. Lóng xū táng was banned during the Chinese Communist Revolution from 1966 to 1975 due to its origins in the Han Dynasty, but today, it has resurfaced and is commonly found at street festivals and tourist attractions.
Lamingtons are squares of sponge cake that have been dipped in chocolate and dried coconut and left to set. Often, there’s also a scrumptious layer of jam or cream inside, between two cake halves. The dessert is named after Lord Lamington, a 19th-century governor of Queensland. Around the year 1900, it’s said that upon receiving some unexpected guests, his French chef improvised some snacks by dunking some leftover cake into chocolate and coconut. Nicknamed “lammos,” they’re often found at charity bake sales in Australia, which are also known as “Lamington drives.”