Fried Sesame Balls

Origin

The history of fried sesame balls is dated back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in Imperial China. By the time, this simple yet delightful dessert was regarded as an imperial food served in the palace to the royalty in Chang’an, China. As time went by, fried sesame balls gradually became popular in other regions of China and became a must-try in Southern Chinese cuisine. In the modern-day, fried sesame balls are available in almost every Chinese restaurant and bakery. Since creativity has no limits, there are a lot of bakeries, especially here in the United States, make super-sized sesame balls to attract customers.

As the recipe traveled to the South, it did not stop there but instead continued to travel to other neighboring countries located in the south of China such as Hong Kong (Hong Kong used to be a British colony), Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Of these many countries, Vietnam is closest to China, and Vietnamese cuisine is heavily influenced by Chinese cuisine. Thus, fried sesame balls became widely adopted in Vietnam, and variations are created throughout different regions of the country.

Chinese Version

The Chinese name of this fried sesame balls dessert is Jian Dui. The sesame balls are made of glutinous rice flour, stuffed with a variety of sweet fillings, and deep-fried to perfection. Hence the name sesame balls, the outside of these glutinous balls are coated with sesame seeds before deep frying. Once the frying process is completed, the glutinous balls will have a crispy exterior and a chewy interior. For the filling in the original version, there are two main choices, red bean paste or lotus seed paste. Both are sweet paste and can be used interchangeably. Other than lotus paste and red bean paste, you can also find black sesame paste and taro paste stuffed in fried sesame balls in many different bakeries.

This dessert is best served with a freshly brewed pot of green tea during family gatherings. The point of this dessert is to be enjoyed on special occasions, like Chinese New Year, birthdays, along with other family members while having meaningful conversations in a warm and relaxing environment. The round shape and golden color of the sesame balls represent good luck. When fried, the sesame balls expand which represents expanding fortune.

Vietnamese Version

Although they both look the same, in Vietnam, the fried sesame balls have different names as well as different ingredients between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. In the north, fried sesame balls are called “Bánh rán” which means fried cake. In the south, the fried sesame balls are called “Bánh cam” which can be roughly translated as orange cake. The Vietnamese people often name their food after its color, so when the sesame balls are fried, their color range between yellow and orange, hence the color orange was chosen to name the dessert. In Vietnam, the word “bánh” is commonly used to describe any food that is made from flour, so no matter it is a main dish or a dessert, as long as it is made from flour, it is called bánh. In the north Vietnamese version, fried sesame balls can be made without a filling or with a savory filling. In the south Vietnamese version, the sesame balls are often coated with a layer of shiny and sugary drizzle. This is also my favorite version of fried sesame balls.

Photo by Vicky Pham on Vietnamese Home Cooking Recipes

Chinese Sesame Balls vs. Vietnamese Sesame Balls

Between the Chinese version and the Vietnamese version of fried sesame balls, the main difference is the filling. In Vietnam, instead of using red bean paste or lotus seed paste, we use prepared mung beans. Before making the dessert, we soak mung beans, cook them, smash them, and roll them into quail-egg-sized balls to later stuff inside the glutinous shells. In the Chinese version, water is often added to the filling to make them softer. In the Vietnamese version, the prepared mung beans paste is much dryer. Once the sesame balls are fried and expanded, if we shake the sesame ball, we can hear the sound of the filling jumping around on the inside. 

Despite the differences, fried sesame balls have the same purpose in both Chinese and Vietnamese culture, that is, a sweet treat the family can share. Just like in China, Vietnamese people often buy fried sesame balls and bring them to family reunion occasions. Though this dessert is simple, it always brings back good memories of my family and my childhood. If you have not tried it yet, whenever you get a chance, head to the nearest Chinese bakery or restaurant and order some of these little tasty sesame balls to share with your friends and family. 

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