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Asian desserts are on the rise - and we're thrilled

There’s something irresistible about Asian dessert shops. Perhaps it’s the clean, geometric layouts and the ambient lighting. Or maybe the small succulents on every table.
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There’s something irresistible about Asian dessert shops. Perhaps it’s the clean, geometric layouts and the ambient lighting. Or maybe the small succulents on every table. Perhaps it’s the overall aesthetics, they often have a color or theme that they follow religiously. Even the cream on a Sweet Hut croissant is in their signature pink. Or there’s Mango Mango, who, fiercely faithful to their name, features only desserts that star mangos, like Mango Panna Cotta, Mango Shaved Ice, Mango Pancake, Mango Mochi, Mango Sundae—you get the idea. Maybe it’s the games that these establishments keep out for customers to play for free. Jenga or Uno, anyone? Most likely, it is a combination of all the above that keeps me, and many others, clambering back for more. Asian dessert shops are elegant, yet cozy. Classic, yet playful. They have it all. In years past, my friends and I would occupy malls and movie theaters. Now, we have migrated to Asian sweet shops, and we haven’t looked back.

In addition, because Collin County’s population is incredibly diverse—15 percent is Asian, as opposed to 5.6 percent of the United States population—it’s not hard to find a local Asian dessert shop that appeals to your personal tastes.

I became acquainted with Asian dessert shops the way you’d get acquainted with a good friend. You cross paths once. Gradually, you start hanging out more and more until you realize that all of a sudden you’re practically tied at the hip. I started my foray into Asian dessert culture because I was attending college prep right next to a boba shop, Kung Fu Tea, a mainstay of Plano’s Little Asia at Park and Coit roads. To trick myself into enjoying college prep, I’d go get a cup of tea with friends beforehand. Then, as more and more boba shops popped up, I found myself wanting to try them all. A love affair was born.

No matter where you are on your Asian sweets journey, from boba tea to rolled ice cream and grass jelly, a multitude of delights await.

Ninja De Cream

ninja de cream
Ninja de Cream rolled ice cream | @ninjadecream

When I enter Ninja De Cream, I’m greeted by a girl my age. Her name tag reads Nhat, her voice is slightly accented and her smile radiates good-will. It’s a rare cold, rainy day. Inside, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. The shop is cozy, with less than ten tables. Behind me in line is a sweet, young girl in a ruffled pink cardigan. Her mother is attending to a baby in a stroller, so the girl tugs at her sleeve to get her attention. “Can I have my usual, Mama?” she asks. The shop is clearly a common outing for the family, a place where they can enjoy each other’s company over a well-deserved treat and a board game or two.

Ninja De Cream specializes in rolled ice cream, basically a richer, creamier version of traditional ice cream that originated in Thailand. It’s known for being highly Instagrammable—an essential for almost all Asian desserts—and packed with flavor. The texture is worlds away from what we’re used to here in the States, because of how it is prepared. Rolled ice cream is made by pouring a milk base on top of a large, frozen dish. When it starts to condense into cream, the preparer uses a metal paddle to spread the mix across the pan. Then, they cut it up into strips and roll each one up.

Much of the appeal of rolled ice cream comes from the sweet’s highly customizable nature. At Ninja De Cream, you get to pick the flavor of your base as well as three toppings and a sweet sauce. Every bowl comes adorned with a large, fluffy marshmallow. I order my ice cream with a mango base, coconut shavings and strawberries on top, drizzled with a condensed milk syrup. As I dip in, the sweet, sour and nutty flavors I have picked blend together in perfect harmony: the magic of rolled ice cream.

9144 Prestmont Pl. #230, Frisco.

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Heavenly Kup

Heavenly Kup is one of those tea and dessert shops that I’m shocked doesn’t get more buzz. It’s incredibly photogenic, featuring a mural of brightly-colored angel wings where visitors can take pictures of themselves, or their food and drinks. The owner, Lauren, is open and chatty, always enthusiastic about recommending her favorite treats.

The menu is vast, encompassing a variety of sweets that I haven’t seen elsewhere. There’s Korean taiyaki, or fish-shaped waffles, along with a selection of Korean teas, which are more fruity than the teas that you would find at most boba shops. Heavenly Kup is also known for its shaved ice—another Korean delicacy. While the majority of boba shops make their shaved ice with a water base, Heavenly Kup uses a milk base to create a rich, creamy texture. The shaved ice is filled with mochi, or chewy rice balls, and topped off with ice cream from Henry’s Homemade Ice Cream in Plano. Heavenly Kup also has numerous flavors of milk and green teas. Since Taiwan is famous for their high-quality tea, Lauren chooses to purchase her tea from Taiwanese brands and brews almost all of her teas from scratch once they’re ordered.

On my visit, I order a Thai tea, which is sweet and milky, the boba at the bottom soaked in delicious honey. My mother orders a matcha shaved ice, which she describes as gently sweet, with a texture that melts in her mouth. She can’t stop raving about how wonderfully the mochi, ice cream, and shaved ice complement each other. Heavenly, indeed.

6505 W. Park Blvd. #322, Plano

BlackBall Taiwanese Desserts

I have a Taiwanese friend who swears by traditional Taiwanese desserts. She treats herself to bowls of grass jelly, mochi and boba on days that she finds particularly stressful and visibly loosens up after the first spoonful. These Taiwanese specialties can be found at BlackBall, in a staggering number of variations.

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As a person that didn’t grow up with Taiwanese food, I understand the confusion that surrounds grass jelly and it’s compatriot aiyu jelly. Grass jelly, or xian cao, is a black jelly extracted from a plant in the mint family. It has a delicate, herbal taste. Aiyu jelly comes from a fig variety that grows almost exclusively in Taiwanese mountains, making it an authentic Taiwanese dish. It’s slightly sweet, almost fruity. Both types are very refreshing. At Blackball, a visitor can order a bowl with a base of either jelly, topped off with mochi in flavors such as sweet potato or taro and often served with boba, which are cooked tapioca pearls.

I will admit that because these dishes are more traditional, they are an acquired taste. For example, don’t go into BlackBall expecting a sugar rush! Taiwanese desserts are subtle, understated, and very refreshing.

100 Legacy Dr. Ste. 102, Plano

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If you haven’t yet tried out an Asian sweet shop, consider this your sign from the universe. It’s easy to get stuck in our own little bubbles, talking to the same people, taking the same roads and eating at the same establishments. I drive by unfamiliar places every day and often never think twice about what new wonders could await me inside. But whenever I venture off of my own personal beaten path, I find new friends, new cultures and new cravings, whether it’s tea, shaved ice, rolled ice cream, fish-shaped waffles or grass jelly. A couple years ago, I wandered into Kung Fu Tea to liven up my college prep experience and ended up frequenting Asian dessert shops for the long haul, a fan of the hospitality and the ambience, as well as the sweets. Some of my most treasured memories are of times spent catching up with friends over a refreshing cup of Thai tea, toppling Jenga blocks and sharing life stories. Asian dessert shops allow us to make time for what really matters: the people in our lives. All while enjoying the diverse goodies the world has to offer us.

Originally published in the April 2019 “Just Desserts” issue under the title “Feeling Bubbly”