When you travel the world, you discover all kinds of new things: new dishes, new festivals, new cultures, new friends. The list is endless—it’s a parade of new things. Include sweet treats!
Sure, over the years I’ve found my favorite signature dishes that I will forever love thanks to sampling them in a new country—some are local delicacies, and others are just bizarre street eats.
But one thing that surprised me was the sheer number of fun snacks I would discover, as well as new flavors on old favorite treats. Some of my favorite new treats are sweet, some salty. But all are portable and can make a great treat on a long bus ride . . . interestingly, most of my favorites from my travels are centered in Asia!
1. Burmese Treat: Sour Plum Candies
What a delight are these slightly sour treats rolled in sugar and sold throughout the Bagan region of Myanmar! We found a women’s collective making them and selling them on a road-side as we traveled among the various temples of Bagan and we loved them enough that I stocked up on baggies of them to bring home as sweet treats for friends.
Thailand has a version of this treat made with the tart roselle flower (a version of hibiscus) that you can find during festivals and it’s worth sampling, particularly if you can’t make it to Bagan!
Also, jaggery candies are a runner up in Myanmar—it’s this treat of pure cooked sugarcane that you’ll most often find in served as a free dessert in Myanmar (usually there are chunks in a jar on the table). My niece and I stumbled upon a jaggery-making factory in rural Myanmar while riding our bikes and it was neat to see how they make this sweet treat. As much as we loved the experience though, it was the baggies of plum candies from Bagan that kept us in thrall throughout our month traveling across Myanmar.
2. Nepali Treat: Lapsi Candy
Topping my list of personal favorites from around the world is a sweet jellied candy called lapsi. I don’t even like chewy candies, but this one has a mild flavor and it’s deceptively easy to plough through a package in one sitting. The traditional/plain flavor is my favorite, but it was fun to shake things up with the spicy lapsi every few days too!
Nepali lapsi is made from hog plum and then additional sugar. You can also easily find lapsi candy made with chilli and other spices—it’s never the same twice, so you really should sample it throughout your travels in Nepal.
3. Jordanian Treat: Knafeh
I love everything about knafeh and even though you can find versions of it across the Middle East, I truly loved the one I sampled in Amman, Jordan. The version I sampled in Istanbul had the fine noodle-like dough that you can find on some versions, but I was partial to the fine semolina dough sampled on this treat from Habiba Sweets’ small shop in Amman. What makes this stand out so deliciously is that it’s made with a savory cheese, but the dough is soaked in a sweet syrup. The combination of sweet and savory and the delicious texture of the cheese make this a perfectly balanced dessert!
4. Indian Treat: Fennel Seeds
Restaurants in India serve a small bowl of fennel seeds at the end of many meals. This is a custom throughout many regions of the country and it acts as a palate cleanser. These seeds are a mixed medley of plain fennel, sugar-coated fennel, and small bits of crystallized sugar—once you’re used to ending each meal like this, it’s hard to leave the table without craving the strong licorice flavor! This was such a fun sweet treat from my world travels that I even shipped some home to my dad since he’s a licorice fanatic.
Even though I think the fennel seeds is a fun treat for those who had never before tasted it, it’s worth noting that India has other worthy additions to this list, including: makhania lassi, kheer, and gulab jamun. I thoroughly enjoyed all of these on the regular when I backpacked across India for two months.
5. Thai Treat: Mango Sticky Rice
This is probably the only true dessert on the list that I would be willing to eat on the regular, as an integrated part of my daily life. Many of the other treats make great snacks, or they are a special dessert you would eat on a special occasion. Mango sticky rice is just straight up delicious. It’s made by slicing up a perfectly ripe mango, adding a side of sticky rice, and then coating the entire concoction in sweetened coconut milk before you sprinkle on toasted sesame seeds. You can find mango sticky rice served from street stalls all over Thailand and I made this a weekly treat during that portion of my round the world travels. Your life will be better once you sample this Thai sweet treat.
6. Bosnian Treat: Turkish Delight
Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of my favorite countries on my round the world trip, in no small part because I lived on the sweets. As a vegetarian, I struggled to find a lot of vegetarian meals, but I was completely in the clear with the many tasty Bosnian desserts.
The huge Turkish population in Bosnia means that Turkish Delight is an authentic sweet treat here, and its different from what you can find in the U.S. and the West. I confess my first encounter with Turkish Delight was actually reading about it in the Chronicles of Narnia, and it was a full 15 years later that I managed to find this sweet treat. The soft jelly candy can greatly differ depending on your chosen flavor. Think: rose water with pistachios, sweet lemon, and sticky dates with chewy walnut. Like an ice-cream shop in the states, at the shops in Bosnia you pick your selection of Turkish Delight from a selection upwards of 15 flavors in some cases! Although this is not my favorite candy in the world, it’s fun to eat when you’re in the region.
7. Cambodian Treat: Black Sesame Seed Squares
Did you know that such a thing existed as the deep, savory flavor of black sesame? It was not until I landed in Bangkok on my round the world trip that I first discovered my deep love for black sesame—lucky for me it’s used to flavor milk and any number of other delicious treats.
These sesame seed squares are the healthiest treat on this list because they pack in a lot of protein from the sesame seeds. Beyond that, the treat is incredibly simple as a lacing of honey or sugar syrup binds the sesame seeds together. These little powerhouse treats are a great way to tide over dropping blood sugar until you can find some food, and these are my go-to treat for a quick bus ride snack!
8. Middle Eastern Treat: Dried Figs
This one is actually a treat that I chalk up to my time in Nepal, since that is where I first sampled truly delicious dried/pressed figs. These were the best I had ever tasted and they are abundantly available if you walk into any of the stores in Thamel, Kathmandu—most shops sell little baggies of these deliciously fresh dried figs.
Figs however, were actually first cultivated by humans in Mesopotamia and were essentially the first sweetener used in desserts. Now as someone traveling the world, I’ve made a point to sample this sweet treat in locations as varied as Turkey, Nepal, Jordan, Spain, the U.S., and pretty much anywhere else I can find a selection of figs. I still hold a deep love for Nepali figs, but I admit that a fig jam sampled in Wadi Dana, Jordan made for a memorable tasty treat!
9. Asia: Mango Flavored Everything!
U.S. and European based companies target the flavors of their products to each region receiving the product, and outside of the U.S., mango is a pretty well-loved flavor.
My most fun find was mango flavored Corn Flakes in Nepal—bought as an addition a movie night with new friends, they were a huge hit . . . and so addicting the box was consumed in a few hours by just three of us!
Other mango treats found in the region include: sodas, chips, cookies, yogurt—just about anything that could take a mango flavor is on offer. There was also a wealth of freshly dried mangos as well!
10. Global Treat: Fun Chip Flavors
Mango wasn’t the only interesting change to a traditional flavor that we have stateside. I’ve made a career out of sampling chips from all over the world in flavor combinations that would never make the shelves of a U.S. grocery store. Prawn is a perennial hit in Asia that I’ve never tried being that I’m vegetarian, and I’ve also seen crab.
I am committed to buying every new vegetarian can of Pringles that I find—Pringles makes a dizzying array of bizzare international flavors. My go-to in regular life is salt and vinegar, but I’ve added to my sample list: paprika, balsamic vinegar, ketchup, emmental cheese, salt and seaweed.
This is just a sampling of what I’ve found and loved all over the world. I wrote an entire post about my love for sweet Czech dumplings as well. And across some areas of Asia I found sweet treats made from bean paste of all things (very common!) The world has more sweet and unique treats than you can even imagine.
What are your favorite unusual or unexpected treats from around the world?