Learn Cantonese Slang: Get your dessert fix the Hong Kong way

  • Say it like a pro when you order sweet and scrumptious 'tong sui' or 'dou fu fa' (tofu pudding)
  • This week, we look at some common slang related to Cantonese-style desserts
Kelly Fung |

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Try some Cantonese-style 'tong sui' or sweet soup for dessert.

When it comes to having a food crawl in Hong Kong, don’t forget to get a taste of tong sui before the end of the day. 

Tong sui means “sugar water” literally, yet it’s a general term for all kinds of soupy Cantonese desserts. Tong sui comes in a bowl of sweet soup with common ingredients like beans, nuts, sago, grass jelly, fruits and pudding. Locals have it either cold or hot depending on the season.

While Western desserts focus more on baking, plating and fusion of flavours, tong sui is more about texture, moisture and health benefits. From green bean soup and black sesame soup to grass jelly with assorted fruits, tong sui are known to have many nutrients that are great for your health. For example, green beans and grass jelly are considered to be “cool food”, according to Chinese medicine. They are effective in reducing heat and flushing out impurities and toxins from the body during summer. 

Check out the tong sui below and explore the lingo of the ingredients and texture.

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Hunt down these desserts:

【楊枝甘露】 [yoeng 4 zi 1 gam 1 lou 6 ] (yuh-ng-gee-gum-lo) - “willow branches and dew drops”
Meaning: mango pomelo sago; the name comes from the concept of Guanyin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, who, according to fable refreshes people by scattering dew drops with a willow branch.
Example: Have you tried the snow-skin mooncake in yoeng zi gam lou flavour?

【渣咋】 [zaa 1 zaa 4] (jah-ja) [related to a Portuguese word that means “assorted”]
Meaning: sweet mixed bean soup (green bean, purple haricot, chickpeas, red kidney beans and pearl barley)
Example: Zaa zaa is my all-time favourite as it nourishes the body.

【薑汁撞奶】 [gueng 1zap 1 zong 6 naai 5 ] (guh-ng-jap-jong-nai) - “ginger-juice collides with milk”
Meaning: ginger milk curd; “collide” refers to the curdling process that take place when ginger juice is mixed with milk
Example: If you like the taste of ginger, you’ll enjoy gueng zap zong naai.

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Hunt down these ingredients:

【涼粉】 [leong 4 fan 2] (luh-ng-fan) - “chilled noodles”
Meaning: grass jelly/herb jelly
Example: How about we take a break and grab some leong fan nearby?

【雪耳】 [syut 3 yi 5] (suit-yi) - “snow ear”
Meaning: snow fungus
Example: All I want in winter is a bowl of hot sweet soup with syut yi and pears.

【清心丸】[cing 1 sum 1 yun 2] (ching-sum-yuen) - “clear-heart balls”
Meaning: a specific kind of tapioca ball that’s transparent
Example: Can I have extra cing sum yun in my green bean soup, please?

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Lingo to describe texture:

【爽口】 [song2  hau 2] (song-hou) - “refresh-mouth”
Meaning: it’s used to describe food that is refreshing, chilling and springy.
Example: Having a bowl of song hau grass jelly in the summer is so invigorating.

【煙韌】 [yin 1 ngan 6] (yin-un) - “steamy and gummy”
Meaning: chewy
Example: What I love about tapioca noodles is that they are very yin ngan.

【流心】 [lau 4 sum 1] (lou-sum) - “flows from the heart”
Meaning: molten
Example: This tangyuen has lau sum matcha filling! 

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Decoding earthy descriptions:

【(芋)泥】 [wu 2 nai 4] (wu-nai) - “(taro) mud”
Meaning: it’s added after the food (often taro) to describe the mushy texture; In English we call it mash, purée or paste.
Example: This taro dessert has sweet potato balls and wu nai in it. It’s delicious!

【(紅豆)沙】 [hung 4 dau 6 saa 1] (hong-doh-sa) - “(red bean) sand”
Meaning: Hong Kong people use the word “sand” instead of “soup” for the rich, sandy texture of bean soups.
Example: My mum made some mini glutinous rice balls to add to the hung dou saa, would you like to try some?

【(西米)露】 [Sai 1 mai 5 lou 6] (sai-mai-lo) - “(sago) dew”
Meaning: Again, instead of "sago soup", locals call it "sago dew" for its resemblance to crystal-clear dew.
Example: Can I have a taro sai mai lou with coconut milk, please?

【(豆腐)花】 [dau 6 fu 6 faa 1] (doh-fu-fa) - “(tofu) flower”
Meaning: in Cantonese, tofu pudding is named “tofu flower” for its delicate and soft texture likened to a flower.
Example: The dau fu faa here is very famous – it has a rich soybean flavour.

Slang of the week:

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