My Five Favorite Non-American Desserts


The pastry counter of St. Germain, a French patisserie near Atlantic Station.

Lauren Cisewski, Editor

It’s no secret that American foods just don’t measure up: when faced with Indian, French, or Asian cuisines, our collective diet of processed meats and bagged foods pales in comparison. Personally, I hold less distaste towards American cuisine than others might—despite its shocking lack of freshness, it offers convenience and a vast variety of options for everyone’s personal taste. 

However, I believe there is one area in which American foods are absolutely subpar: desserts. It may be a matter of my palette, but I’ve always found American desserts to be far too sweet and lacking in any real flavor other than sugar. Thankfully, I’ve been able to try plenty of alternatives: here are my top five.

1) Risgrøt

Risgrøt can be simply described as Norwegian rice porridge. It’s made by cooking short-grain rice over unsweetened milk for several hours, resulting in a thick, creamy porridge with a strong milky taste. Risgrøt is traditionally made around Christmas time in Norway, and served with salted butter or a light dusting of sugar. Growing up, risgrøt was always a favorite dessert of mine: it was light but comforting, and it served as a sort of blank canvas for whatever flavors I was craving. My favorite way to customize it is with sugar and cinnamon, giving it a flavor more similar to traditional rice puddings. I genuinely believe the majority of people would love risgrøt just as much as I do—whether you’re looking for simplicity or something you can load up with sugar, cinnamon, and butter, it’s a comforting and delicious choice.

2) Boba

While boba may not fit the traditional definition of a dessert, it’s too good for me to omit. Originating from Taiwan, boba is a delicious mix of sweetened tea and chewy tapioca pearls. My favorite thing about boba is how customizable it is—wherever you go, you can choose from both fruit and traditional tea flavors, select how sweet you’d like it to be, and choose to add or omit creamer and toppings. My love for boba found its roots during the height of the Covid pandemic; during periods of virtual school and social isolation, I would often go out with my family a few times a week to get boba, picking it up and drinking it in the parking lot. While these memories are part of what makes me so fond of boba, it is truly and objectively delicious, and something I also think everyone should have the opportunity to try. 

3) Kouign-amann

Kouign-amann, a pastry coming from the Brittany region of France, is both incredibly delicious and shamefully underrated. Kouign-amann is essentially a muffin made from sweetened, laminated dough, making it quite similar to a croissant: before cooking, butter is repeatedly layered within the dough. However, kouign-amann notably incorporates sugar into the lamination process. This sugar both sweetens the dough but caramelizes the flaky layers during the baking process, creating a soft-yet-crunchy texture that balances the salt of the butter and sweetness of the burnt sugar. Due to the skill and time required to bake a proper kouign-amann, it’s often available only in French patisseries in the United States, and is rightfully expensive.

4) Pasteis de Nata

Pasteis de nata is by no means unknown or unappreciated within the US. You can likely find them—although they may just be labeled “egg tarts”—in any mainstream grocery store. However, authentic pasteis de nata is almost completely different from what you’d find in a Publix or Kroger. Pasteis de nata, a Portuguese dessert, is an egg-based custard that’s contained in a crisp shell and then caramelized similar to a creme brulee. Compared to the other desserts on this list, pasteis de nata is extremely popular outside of its home country: it’s almost ubiquitous in both Europe and the US. The best pasteis de nata I’ve ever had was actually a vegan version from a small popup in New York City. While I typically shy away from vegan desserts—especially when said dessert is very much dairy based—these pasteis de nata had the perfect balance between a creamy, soft filling and the crunch of their shell and caramelization. 

5) Lassi 

Similarly to boba, lassi may not be considered a traditional dessert, but is too delicious to leave off. Lassi is a traditional Indian yogurt-based drink that comes in several flavors ranging from mango to cardamom and rose. Whatever flavor you may choose, lassi is recognizable by its thick texture and distinctive tang. Every lassi I’ve tried has been absolutely delicious regardless of the flavor, especially when I found myself doubting how much I might like it. However, lassi is ultimately best paired with authentic Indian foods: my favorites are chole masala and rasam. 

Regardless of your own preferences and comfort trying unfamiliar foods, foreign desserts are a less intimidating and extremely delicious way to introduce yourself to the world of new cuisines. Whether you’ve tried any of the aforementioned desserts or not, I would encourage everyone to seek out niche and unfamiliar foods in whatever way they’re most comfortable with: you may just find your new favorite.