Fried Sesame Balls


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. 

Pasteis de Nata – A Dessert That Travels The World

A Brief History…

Four centuries ago, the Portuguese set foot on Macau and put the region under their rule. Portugal’s colonization of Macau shaped a unique East-meet-West culture for the city, resulting in the two cultures exchanging and adapting each other’s lifestyles and cuisines. Inspired by the original Portuguese egg tart, also known as Portuguese custard tart or Pasteis de Nata, Macau egg tart has been widely enjoyed by families not only in the region but also in other neighboring countries. The original Pasteis de Nata was believed to be invented by Catholic monks in Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal. Not only were these little lovely custard tarts delicious, but they also have a very interesting history. Due to a shortage of laundry detergent, nuns and monks at the time had to use egg whites to starch clothes, resulting in a lot of egg yolks going spare. To avoid wasting the yolks, monks at Jerónimos Monastery used them to create a secret recipe to make these simple yet flavorful tarts. By the time the monks sold these custard tarts to make extra income to support the monastery, Pasteis de Nata was widely enjoyed by the people. 

Though each tart is small, it packs a sugary punch; that is why Pasteis de Nata is best enjoyed with a cup of cappuccino or espresso as soon as they come out of the oven. The combination of sweet and bitter make the Portuguese custard tarts and coffee a perfect companion. A tip from the locals, use a dessert spoon to scoop out the eggy filling and enjoy while it is still warm. Since the outside of this custard tart is made from a light, flaky pastry, it will get soggy quickly if not enjoyed within a day or so.

Portuguese Egg Tarts by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Macau Egg Tart vs. Pasteis de Nata

Since the Portugueses brought the recipe to Macau, the people of Macau adopted the recipe and added some modifications to adjust to the locals’ taste. In the original recipe of Pasteis de Nata, the puff pastry has a buttery taste while in the Macanese recipe, the puff pastry has a more subtle sweet taste. This is because the Macanese recipe calls for a small amount of sugar added to the puff pastry dough. Another difference between these two recipes is the number of eggs used in each recipe. In the Portuguese custard tart version, the recipe often calls for fewer eggs than in the Macanese egg tart version. I guess that is partly the reason why the Portuguese version is named custard tart instead of egg tart. 

The last noticeable difference between these two recipes is the garnishing or topping. In the original version of Pasteis de Nata, the freshly baked tarts are often garnished with cinnamon or powdered sugar while in the Macau version, the egg tarts are not garnished. The toppings add a slightly different flavor to the tarts. For some people, especially those who are hypersensitive to smells, the cinnamon helps eliminate the eggy taste. For cinnamon lovers, there is no such thing as too much cinnamon. According to some people, both the cinnamon and the powdered sugar garnishing simply make the egg tarts look more appealing. It is also a good idea, especially in today’s social media era, to garnish your dishes beautifully so they look more Instagramable. 

I hope you enjoy this post. If you haven’t already, try an egg tart some days. Though authentic Portuguese egg tarts are harder to find, Asian variations of Portuguese egg tarts are available in almost every Asian bakery.

Durian Sticky Rice

A Brief Introduction

For Vietnam is an agricultural country, there are many different varieties of rice grown all over the country’s vast rice fields. The Vietnamese people believe that rice is the pearls of the gods, and for centuries, rice has been used mainly in many different dishes in Vietnamese cuisine. Among different types of rice you can find in Vietnam, white rice or jasmine rice, brown rice, red rice, purple rice, there is also a special type of rice called glutinous rice or sticky rice. In East Asia as a whole, sticky rice is very popular since it appears in more than one country’s cuisine. However, since Vietnam is not only an agricultural country but it is also a tropical country, the Vietnamese people often incorporate exotic tropical fruits and vegetables into a lot of different sticky rice delicacies. Today, I would like to introduce you to another one of my favorite childhood desserts, Durian sticky rice.

What is durian sticky rice?

First thing first, let’s start with the star of this dish, the durian. In Southeast Asia, hot weather and humidity yield a perfect environment for tropical fruits to grow. Among many of them, durian is a one-of-a-kind fruit for its incredibly strong smell and spiky look. From the outside, a durian’s color often ranges from husk green to brown, and its rind is always covered with a lot of prickly thorns. From the inside, the durian’s flesh has a yellowish color. What makes this fruit special as well as controversial is its strange smell. For people who like the durian, the fruit has a pleasantly sweet fragrance. On the other hand, those who cannot stand the durian think its aroma is overpowering and very unpleasant. Despite the controversy revolving around, the durian is still considered the king of fruits.

By combining the king of fruits and the pearl of the gods into the same dish, the Vietnamese people enjoy Durian Sticky rice on a lot of different occasions. As long as there is a gathering, chances are there is durian sticky rice. What makes durian sticky rice special is that durian and sticky rice are not the only ingredients in this dish. Traditionally, to prepare durian sticky rice, we start off with soaking the raw sticky rice in diluted coconut milk until they all swell up. This would help the sticky rice to absorb the fragrance and the creaminess of the coconut milk. We also soak mung beans in water for about half as long as we soak the sticky rice, then combine these two ingredients together to steam. Since the durian pulps and coconut milk are such delicate ingredients, we add them at the end of the cooking process to make sure they get just enough heat to infuse their fragrance into the rice. By the time the cooking process is finished, all that is left is to let the stick rice cool down and serve. Normally, because there is already durian meat mixed into the sticky rice, we don’t need any additional toppings. However, in order to make this dessert fancier, we can always add one or two durian pulps to it.

Vietnamese Durian Sticky Rice

The king of durians

I have always been a durian lover, so every time I think of durian, I instantly think of this delightful dessert. Recently, I have found that the best durians in the world are not from neither Vietnam nor Thailand, although Thai durians have huge pulps. Instead, the best durians are from Malaysia, and they are known as Musang King durian. Last summer, I bought them to try with my homemade durian sticky rice, and I must admit that they really live up to the name. I am glad I found this new ingredient so I can combine it with a recipe from my childhood.

Durian has always been my favorite exotic fruit, what is yours? Have you ever tried either durian, sticky rice, or durian sticky rice? If you have not, try either one of them or all of them sometimes. Maybe they can become your favorite too.

Vietnamese Red Bean Dessert

A Brief History…

From a very long time ago, red beans had been used as the main ingredient in many different Asian cuisines, especially to make mouth-watering sweet and healthy desserts. What makes Asian cuisine stand out is the made-fresh-from-scratch ingredients. In traditional cooking, many Asian countries often use farm-to-table ingredients. This is understandable since almost all Asian countries are widely known for agriculture. Red beans are also called azuki beans. They are one of mother nature’s most generous gifts to man. Since Asia is a vast continent, the use of red beans also varies from regions. In the northeastern subregion of Asia, including countries such as China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, red beans are often used to make a sweet paste known as red bean paste. Red bean paste is popular not only in the past but also in the present day. It is often used as the filling of those lovely chewy and stretchy mochi. Red bean paste can also be used as a topping in many other sweet desserts.

Sweet Red Bean Paste

My Sweet Memory

Every time I think of my childhood’s favorite dessert or snack, I think of “Che Dau Do” or “Vietnamese red bean dessert.” This delightful dessert is not only delicious, but it is also one of the simplest yet very healthy dishes of Vietnamese cuisine. While red beans were used to make a sweet paste in the upper region of Asia, in the lower region, Southeast Asia, red beans are often pressure-cooked to perfection and served in small bowls topped with sweet cane syrup and coconut milk. In Vietnam, red bean dessert is enjoyed for more than one reason. Since Vietnam is a tropical country, the weather is sunny all year round. Some days, the temperature can reach 90 – 100 degrees Fahrenheit easily. As a result, the Vietnamese people often eat red bean dessert as a refreshing snack during the day, because this wonderful dessert can be eaten warm or cold depending on the eater’s preference. In Vietnam, you can find red bean dessert almost everywhere since it is a popular street food as it is a dessert.

Another reason red bean dessert is widely adored and enjoyed in Vietnam is because of its name and its ingredients. Starting with the name, in Vietnamese language, bean means “đậu,” which rhymes with the word “passing,” and red means “đỏ,” which rhymes with the word “luck.” Not only in Vietnam but also in many other Asian countries, the red color is believed to bring good luck. Although it is not scientifically proven, Asian people, especially the Vietnamese still believe that the red bean dessert’s name means good luck and prosperity to those who enjoy it. This is also the reason why red bean desserts made my childhood favorite. Since I grew up in a working-class family, my parents did not want my sisters and me to grow up into just common people. Instead, they wanted us to study as hard as we could so that we could achieve as much success as possible. Thus, every time either one of us is preparing for a big examination, the family will gather after dinner to eat “Che Dau Do” and wish good luck. This was also the best moment since we got to sit together, eat a tasty treat, and have encouraging conversations. Every time I think of this dessert, it reminds me of how much my parents loved me and my sisters. No matter how hard they had to work, they kept pushing tirelessly just so they could build us a brighter future.

Vietnamese red bean dessert is my favorite childhood memory, what is your favorite? And what memory does it remind you of?

My Story

Growing up in the countryside of a Southeast Asian country, my childhood revolved around tropical climate, rainy weather, and scorching hot summers. Although the weather seemed to be unpleasant, Mother Nature, on the other hand, was very generous to the Vietnamese people. Being geographically located in the tropical zone, Vietnam is without a doubt a heaven when it comes to fruits and vegetables. According to our belief, since these ultra-fresh ingredients are precious gifts from the gods, we must express our gratitude by making as much food as possible instead of wasting them, and this is one of the reasons why the Vietnamese cuisine is renowned for its variety of heart-warming comfort foods and delightful desserts.

I have always been passionate about making mouth-watering desserts and connecting with people. My love and passion for desserts started when I was a child. Since my parents were always busy with their jobs and the family business, my older sisters and I often spent a lot of time together doing chores around the house so our parents did not have to worry about it after a tiresome day. As the youngest child, my task was easier and less heavy than those of my older sisters. Most of the time, my sisters were responsible for cooking and preparing the main course, and I was responsible for making dessert. As of this point, some of you may find it is hard to believe that we had to do the cooking for the whole family even though we were just kids, but this was the norm in my country back in the days. Starting with easier recipes, I gradually worked my skills up to more complex ones. As I started a new life in the United States, I do not get to spend time with my family like we used to do. I often miss the times when after finishing the main course, we start to dig through the colorful dessert I made for the family. Some days it tastes better than the others, but my parents always complement it no matter what, and those were the most beautiful times we got to spend together. 

Recently, as I made more friends from both school and work, I realized that I am not the only one who misses the familiar tastes of their soul foods. According to many of my colleagues, dessert was also the biggest part to remind them of the sweetest memories they spent with their families. Though we are away from our family, my friends and I often gather on special occasions and share our own ethnic foods or desserts with each other. By enjoying one another’s food, I can see that the bonds between us grow stronger each time. 

Based on this experience, I have decided to start researching and sharing dessert recipes around the world through this blog with the hope to connect with people from all over the world. I believe that comfort food has the power to bring people closer from one culture to another. I hope you will join me on this journey so we can explore the wonderful world of desserts together. 

Quick question, what would you like for dessert?