For those old enough to make their own food decisions (like whether or not to finish all their broccoli), it should be totally socially acceptable to skip the leafy greens and savory dishes in favor of sweets and more sweets. With a world full of so many different delectable treats, it can be hard to justify filling up on things like lunch and dinner. For every country’s savory delicacy or local specialty, there is a sweet counterpart equally worth tasting — why should sushi get all the attention in Japan when there is daifuku mochi to try? And why should po’boys in New Orleans get all the play when there are beignets to indulge in?
Some sweet dishes are familiar and often found around the world, like Italian gelato, Middle Eastern baklava, Spanish churros, and Parisian crêpes. But there are more than enough desserts that are so tied to one place that spending time there without trying it would be a crime. The world of desserts and sweets is incredibly vast and each country has a different method for approaching it — some have a penchant for deep-fried treats, some prefer a custard-like gooey texture, some can’t get enough of a pudding-style dessert, and still some go the frozen or fresh fruit route.
Since dessert is such an indulgence, sweet treats are usually made with some of the most prized and delicious ingredients found in that region, like red bean paste in Japan, glutinous rice in Thailand, and toffee in Britain. They also often rose out of clever experiments — like Canadian maple taffy, which is maple syrup hardened when it’s poured on snow. And in once-colonized countries, desserts can reflect the lingering influence of the country that was once present, like the Brazilian dessert quindim, which uses many Portuguese ingredients and techniques.
So here are 20 reasons to skip dinner and head straight for dessert, no matter where you go.
Gelato is an Italian favorite sold in specialty shops throughout the country. The Italian sweet differs from traditional ice creams because it has a lower butterfat content and a lighter texture. There is any number of flavors depending on where you go, but places like Grom (one of Florence's best-known gelaterias) always have classics like nocciola, chocolate, stracciatella, and vanilla on hand.
Maple Taffy: Canada
Maple taffy is made by pouring extra-boiled maple syrup onto snow so that it hardens and becomes taffy-like, then working a lollipop stick into it. The whole process is incredibly popular and ingrained in Québécois culture, and even in maple syrup-making parts of New England, where "sugar on snow" parties are thrown.
Gulab Jamun: India
Gulab jamun comes from the Persian word for rose water and the Hindi word "jamun," which refers to a local fruit similar in size to these sweet, doughy treats. They're made of a milk-based dough that is rolled into a ball and deep-fried before being smothered in sugar syrup, rose water, saffron, and other herbs.
Quindim is a dessert that reflects the culinary influence of Brazil's colonizer, Portugal. Eggs, sugar, and coconut are made into a round custard, almost like a big Brazilian Bundt cake with a texture and appearance similar to flan.
Pastel de Nata: Portugal
This Portuguese dessert has one major thing in common with Brazilian quindim — the use of egg yolks for both color and flavor. Pastéis de nata are small egg custard tarts, best tasted at Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, the first place to sell them to the public. They usually come plain, though some places will serve them with powdered sugar or cinnamon on top.
Although baklava is linked to more than a handful of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries (from Greece to Iran), it is widely accepted to be of Turkish origin. There are many variations on the basic theme, but it's traditionally layered phyllo dough that is filled with chopped nuts and honey. Some add rose water, some add specific spices, some use only one type of nut, and still some use butter in each layer.
Beignets: New Orleans
Beignets are almost like messier looking doughnuts — they’re made from deep-fried dough and are covered in powdered sugar. The most famous are from Café du Monde in New Orleans, where they’re most often served with coffee.
Mango with Sticky Rice: Thailand
Mango with sticky rice is one of the most-loved desserts throughout Thailand, and really all over Southeast Asia. It's made from glutinous rice that is cooked in coconut milk until its creamy and almost pudding-like, and is then topped with fresh, sliced mangoes (when they're in season).
Che Dau Xanh: Vietnam
This classic Vietnamese dessert is a treat in soup form. Since sweet soups are so common in Vietnam, there are plenty of variations — most versions of che dau xanh are made with mung beans, while some are made with small dumplings filled with mung bean paste, but the liquid almost always has a sweet, ginger flavor. They're usually topped with sesame seeds.
Sticky Toffee Pudding: England
Quintessentially British, sticky toffee pudding is made from moist cake that's covered in a toffee sauce that has the texture of caramel, and is sometimes finished with chopped dates. It's usually served with ice cream on the side. Many hold that although the dessert originated in Southern England, the first place to serve it to the public was the Sharrow Bay Country House hotel.
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