Hong Kong’s famous dessert shop, Hui Lau Shan, opened its first California location in Irvine this past August and has been packed ever since. The chain is famous for their mango obsession and delicious Hong Kong style desserts.
Hui Lau Shan was launched in Hong Kong back in the 1960s with a single cart, selling herbal tea. Today, they offer over three hundred menu items, mostly themed around mangoes. The chain has expanded to hundreds of locations in Hong Kong, mainland China, South Korea, Thailand, and other East Asian countries, bringing the Hong Kong definition of a dessert to more people.
This year, they’ve expanded by opening stores in New York City, Seattle, and Irvine. Stores in Los Angeles and San Francisco will follow.
While the Hui Lan Shan menu includes hundreds of items in other parts of the world, only about 30 made it onto the Irvine menu. According to their public relations manager, Yuqi Wang, the items were carefully selected to fit with the American market.
Even with the smaller menu selections, the store opens each day to lines out the door. For many of those waiting in line, the allure of traditional East Asian desserts is incredibly strong.
If you have never tasted an East Asian dessert, I recommend tasting one. They differ from Western desserts in both their ingredients and flavor. Typically, American desserts lean towards synthetic flavors and artificial sweeteners in order to appeal to the general public’s appetite for sweets, while East Asian desserts preserve the original flavor and texture of the fruits.
Indeed, the desserts at Hui Lan Shan are not incredibly sweet. Instead, the natural notes of mango shine through what normally would be a cloying sweetness. “We never add any artificial flavoring or additional sugar,” Wang said. “Hong Kong desserts preserve the original flavor of the fruit.”
Each of the desserts I sampled for this article were extremely light, despite the larger portion sizes. I recommend the Mango Romance, which includes mango mochi, ice cream, and the chewy rice balls that are featured throughout the menu. Hui Lau Shan’s prices are a bit on the expensive side — especially for high school students like me — but the large portions, the all-natural ingredients, and the delicious flavors make up for the cost. And, based on the crowds, the higher prices don’t seem to be slowing down their business.
The shop opens at 3pm each day, which is surprisingly late compared to the other shops in the same plaza. That’s because it takes several hours to prepare all the items that are sold, many of which are made by hand.
Hui Lau Shan’s first shift of workers arrive at 8am to begin prepping the items that are sold in the refrigerator cabinet by the cashier. Those items include mango and durian pancakes along with mango mochi.
The second shift begins at 9am with workers selecting which mangoes will be used. A typical day at Hui Lau Shan burns through 80 to 90 crates of mangoes. In order to ensure the highest quality desserts, the 9am shift carefully goes through two mango selection processes to guarantee the most delicious desserts. A third shift begins at noon. They spend nearly three hours slicing and dicing the mangoes.
According to Wang, the only complaint the store receives is the lack of seating. “It can’t be helped,” Wang said with a shrug. “The Irvine Company calculates the maximum number of seats that we’re allowed in our shop.”
Hui Lau Shan is bringing something very different to the table compared to the other dessert shops in Irvine. The store not only offers delicious and healthy desserts, it also brings traditional Hong Kong items that are hard to find elsewhere. Even though lines can be long, I definitely recommend checking it out!