Tammy Disayawathana missed the cafes of her hometown in Thailand. The only modern Asian cafes she could find in the States in abundance were in New York, where they have grown in popularity. These spots offer takes on desserts that originated in Asia — typically Japan, Korea and Hong Kong — and Disayawathana, who owns Sisters Thai in Fairfax County, wanted to bring the treats closer to home.
Customers were already raving about the sweets she sold on Sisters Thai’s menu, so she decided to launch a new side project and debuted Magnolia in Vienna last year. “I opened this place to bring my customers to my home,” she said. “They appreciate the details and ingredients.”
Starting in Northern Virginia and spreading to Maryland and the District, an increasing number of dessert shops like Disayawathana’s have recently opened in the area — and many of their Instagram-ready offerings are a feast for the eyes. Behold the Shibuya honey toast with over-the-top garnishes of Ferrero Rocher chocolate, Pocky sticks, wafer cookies, macarons and whipped cream; egg waffles with strawberry-cheesecake or Thai-tea ice cream, gummy bears and sprinkles; and bingsoo, a shaved-iced bowl with vibrant fruit toppings, condensed milk, mochi and frosted flakes.
These desserts aren’t only delicious. They can also serve as a bridge to those with a more Western palate who may not be used to traditional East Asian flavors, said Hyung (David) Min Bae, co-owner of Bon Matcha, an ice cream and matcha stand in West End.
Bae and his partners said they opened their store to celebrate their roots with East Asian flavors such as matcha, cherry blossom and barley tea, while incorporating Western-style ingredients, like lime, honeydew and roasted almond.
“Matcha can come off as bitter to some people,” Bae said. “But in East Asian food culture and other food cultures, it’s considered a spice or flavoring agent; bitterness can be refreshing and add balance.”
The unique combination of flavors and textures result in treats that are not only stunning, but mouthwatering. Here’s where you can try them around Washington.
The menu at Magnolia is like a greatest-hits album of Asian desserts. Choose from an extensive list of shaved-ice treats, purple potato and green tea lattes, smoothie-like drinks, croissants and silky mousse cakes. The signature dessert is the honey toast, or Shibuya toast, known for its origins in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. The thick pastry, meant to be shared, towers at about three inches tall and is caramelized with butter and honey. Piling even higher are the toppings: strawberry, honey or chocolate with Nutella ice cream, whipped cream, sliced fruit, chocolate candies, cookies and colorful macarons.
Once only found at street-food carts in the bustling streets of Hong Kong and big-city Chinatowns, these bubble, or egg, waffles are now available at restaurants and dessert shops all over. Served piping hot, the waffles feature a puffy egg-shaped exterior that you can break off for fun-size bites. The egg waffle can be eaten plain, as it was traditionally served, or overflowing with add-ons, such as sprinkles, Fruity Pebbles, chocolate Pocky sticks, gummy bears, mochi; a large scoop of ice cream holds it together. Make sure you have extra napkins on hand: The hot pastry can melt the ice cream, and the generous helping of powdered sugar can leave dust everywhere.
Snow ice dessert is what you’d dream fresh-fallen snow would taste like in a winter wonderland. Siroo and Juk Story cafe in Annandale captures that soft, airy texture in the Korean shaved ice, also called bingsoo. The dessert is made with finely shaved bits of frozen milk and sugar, which is cold and powdery on the tongue without feeling harsh. Try the chocolate bowl topped with Oreos and brownies or the strawberry variety ringed with fresh fruit, atop “snow” covered with condensed milk, rice cakes and frosted cornflakes for an added crunch.
Siroo and Juk Story, 4231 Markham St., Annandale. siroousa.com.
Also available at: Shilla Bakery & Cafe, various locations in Maryland and Virginia. shillabakeryusa.com. Soricha Tea & Theater, 7112 Columbia Pike, Annandale. soricha.com. SnoCream Company, 4221 John Marr Dr., Annandale. snocreamcompany.com. Breeze Bakery Cafe, 4125 Hummer Rd., Annandale. breezebakery.com.
Mango Mango Dessert cafe in Falls Church uses its namesake fruit for the star of its popular Japanese-French mille crepe cake. Mille, meaning “thousand” in French, refers to the layers upon layers of crepes and cream that allow this mousse-like confection to spring to the touch. A cascade of mango slices and a fine dusting of powdered sugar finishes it all off. The mille crepe cake also comes in matcha and durian flavors — the latter is made with the notoriously odoriferous fruit that’s not for the faint of heart.
Mango Mango Dessert, 6795 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church. mangomangodessert.com.
The West End ice cream stand Bon Matcha serves a velvety-smooth and lightly sweet matcha soft-serve made with ceremonial-grade tea flown in from Kyoto. Derived from the same plant as green tea, matcha is ground into a fine powder, giving off an earthy flavor in vibrant green. In the spring, Bon Matcha also offers Milk Sakura soft-serve, a cherry blossom tea flavor. Other seasonal flavors include Korean barley tea, chestnut, winter melon and this past month’s pick: Black Milk soft-serve. The charcoal-infused ice cream lends a toasted note when swirled with matcha.
Bon Matcha, 1928 I St. NW.
Also available at: Smash’D Creamery, 10427 North St. #103, Fairfax City.
First popularized in the trendy Harajuku district in Tokyo, these delicately sweet rice flour crepes stand upright in conical wire baskets and come wrapped in paper for grab-and-go ease. At Amai Crepe in Rockville, they have an American twist with flavors such as blueberry cheese (blueberry, blueberry reduction and vanilla gelato), Nutella banana and a crowd-favorite: matcha azuki. The latter comes with a scoop of matcha gelato enveloped with fresh strawberries, matcha custard cream, sweet azuki red-bean paste and whipped yogurt.
Amai Crepe, 199 E, Montgomery Ave., Rockville.
Also available at: J-Petal, 2260 Hunters Woods Plaza, Reston. jpetal.com.
In Japan, sea bream is called the “king of fish,” and it’s often served at celebratory and holiday feasts. The revered fish also takes the form of a whimsical, sweet pancake-like pastry called taiyaki that’s traditionally stuffed with red azuki bean paste or custard cream. At Boba and Bites in Falls Church, the taiyaki is filled with soft-serve ice cream. Try the vanilla and chocolate swirl or the matcha and black sesame ice cream. Add rolled wafer cookies, rainbow mochi and a drizzle of condensed milk or chocolate syrup for a novel treat.
Boba and Bites, 8191 Strawberry Ln., Falls Church. bobaandbites.com.