Hong Kong’s famous dessert shop Hui Lau Shan opened its first California outpost in Irvine on August 25. The popular mango-centric dessert chain, which has more than 300 locations around the world, brings its signature fresh fruit desserts to Orange County, with plans to eventually expand into the greater Los Angeles area and San Diego.
Hui Lau Shan has come a long way from its roots as a traditional herbal tea shop in the early 1960s, where it sold herbal teas, herbal jellies, and other nutritional supplements. At the time, there was high demand for Hui Lau Shan’s tortoise jelly, or guilinggao, and bird’s nest, as they were said to have numerous beauty and health benefits. It wasn’t until 1992 when the establishment added fresh mango sago (a kind of starch extracted from palm stems) desserts to their menu that it became an international sensation.
In Hong Kong, there is a branch of Hui Lau Shan virtually everywhere you turn. The bright, eye-catching yellow and red signs are more popular than Starbucks or McDonalds. Hui Lau Shan is popular for being a casual, affordable, and take-out friendly dessert shop. Each store is so busy in Hong Kong that it’s nearly impossible to secure a seat inside, with many people having to share tables with strangers if they choose to dine in.
Hui Lau Shan’s signature mango dessert, the Mango Chewy Ball, is the most popular dish despite the large menu of savory and fruit-filled desserts like a bright green durian pancake, as well as taro and coconut-based snacks. The Mango Chewy Ball starts with pureed mango, which then gets topped with a scoop of mango ice cream made fresh every morning morning on the premises. The kitchen then finishes the dish with the namesake chewy tapioca balls.
The three-layered mango and coconut juice with aloe jelly seems tailored to post onto Instagram, but the drink also allows diners to taste three distinct flavors in one sip. Hui Lau Shan also serves seasonal items like the current Red Dragonfruit (also known as pitaya) Fruit Icy, which uses fresh pureed dragonfruit placed on top of aloe jelly that surrounds a piece of honeydew. Fresh chopped kiwi tops the treat. The Mango Crisp, a sort of mango ice cream sandwich, fuses layers of fresh mango with cookie powder and cream.
“Mangoes known to be rich in antioxidants and high in vitamin C. They are also known to boost the immune system as well,” says store manager Tobby Liu.
Liu sent the staff here to train in Hong Kong while Hui Lau Shan dessert chef Billy Ho arrived in Irvine to help with the opening. The staff comes in four hours before opening each day to prepare the fruits and make fresh aloe, coconut jelly, and tapioca balls from scratch.
“The biggest difference I would say is that the mangoes we use in our Hong Kong and Asia stores are from the Philippines. For our U.S. stores, logistically speaking, we get our mangoes from North and South America,” says Billy Ho.
The popular Philippine variety used in Hong Kong and Asia is the known as the carabao mango, which is juicy, soft, and very sweet when ripe. The variety that the U.S. stores use is derived from the same strain.
“The mangoes taste basically the same as the Carabao variety because they are from the same strain. They are still very sweet,” Ho adds.
Hui Lau Shan has been concentrating on its US expansion. The first permanent U.S. location was in New York City earlier in the year followed by a location in Redmond, Seattle about two months ago. “The menus might slightly differ due to weather differences. For example, NYC’s menu may have a few more hot menu items than Southern California’s. However, we will be adding more seasonal and new items as we go forth. The core menu items are the same as those in Hong Kong. There are all made from the same recipes,” said Liu.
Hui Lau Shan currently has locations in Australia, Canada, China, Malaysia, South Korea, Macau, Taiwan, Paris, Vietnam, Philippines, and counting.
5365 Alton Pkwy, Irvine, CA 92604.