Sesame seeds are one of the main ingredients of the diverse cuisine of China. They are fried and added to cakes and dim sum snacks. The seeds are also ground into a paste and used as dipping sauce, noodle gravy, or filling for dumplings and mooncakes.
In China, the nutty, earthy, slightly bitter taste of sesame balances the sweetness of desserts. Sweet sesame snacks appear at breakfast, during tea and, of course, as a perfect snack after dinner. The place where you will most often find a bunch of Chinese sesame desserts is during festivals and celebrations, especially on the eve of the Chinese New Year. Here are seven Chinese sesame desserts worth trying.
Black sesame soup.
This Cantonese dessert soup, or tong sui, is also sometimes called black sesame paste. Toasted black sesame seeds give this viscous soup a nutty, earthy taste. It is served as a food supplement or as a dim sum. The aroma of black sesame soup is reminiscent of the winding streets of Sheng Wan in Hong Kong, where you can still find small restaurants that prepare these traditional desserts.
This sticky rice cake is usually enjoyed in the Chinese New Year, when it is considered a good luck and is prepared as an offering to the god of cuisine, Tsao Jun. In folk tales, Zao Jun is offered a pie as a bribe so that God does not speak ill of the family in his report to heaven. Niangao is made from glutinous rice flour sweetened with brown sugar. It is prepared either by steaming or in a frying pan with an egg. The niangao is then covered with sesame seeds or other fillings, such as dried dates.
Buns with black sesame seeds.
Popular in Hong Kong, black sesame buns are a common dim sum dessert. This delicacy has a smooth jelly-like texture, obtained by creating a thin paste of black sesame seeds. They are formed into a thin sheet, which is then cooled before being rolled into a cylindrical shape. Black sesame buns are often made at home.
Mooncakes are the centerpiece of the mid-autumn festival (also known as the Mooncake Festival), which is celebrated throughout China. It is believed that the festival began about 2000 years ago to worship the Moon and thank the gods for the harvest. While mooncake flavors can range from green tea to red bean paste, one popular topping is black sesame. Some people combine slightly bitter sesame seeds with mash to make a smooth, flavorful paste. Others mix black sesame seeds with nuts for a crunchy texture. There is also a variant with a salty egg yolk filling surrounded by black sesame paste.
Black sesame dumplings.
These sweet rice balls, called tangyuan, are made from glutinous rice, filled with black sesame seed paste, and dipped in liquid (often in soup or rice wine). Although they look similar to dumplings, the texture is closer to mochi. They are often prepared and eaten during the lantern festival on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year, which is usually a noisy holiday symbolizing the hopes of revellers for a prosperous year. For some, dumplings also have a symbolic meaning. In China, some people believe that round food symbolizes family gatherings.
These fried sesame balls, also known as mu tuan, are a popular dim sum snack. They are also served for breakfast in China’s Guangdong Province. The crunchy exterior is covered in sesame seeds and fried, while the chewy interior is often filled with red bean paste or lotus seeds. Sesame seed balls are believed to have originated during the Tang Dynasty (from 618 to 907), when this snack was enjoyed by members of the royal court in the imperial palace.
Although kuih are more popular in Southeast Asia, they also appear on dessert tables in China. The name kuih refers to an assortment of cakes, steamed buns, and other confections, many of which contain sesame seeds. One option is angku kuih, or red turtle pie (also popular in Indonesia), which replaces the typical sweet potato used to color the outer layer with black sesame paste. You will find this type of kuih dessert in the cuisine of the Nyonya people-descendants of Chinese immigrants who settled in Indonesia and Singapore.