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From the Writer’s Desk

Some of My Favorite Things
By Cindy Pon

Those who have read Silver Phoenix or know me in real life know that I love food and anticipate my meals (and snacks) throughout the entire day. So when Virginia asked me to do a guest blog post for Under the Green Willow, of course my mind strayed immediately to FOOD!

Even those who don’t know me personally (such as those who follow me on Twitter or Facebook) know of my deep, true love for pastries. As I confessed in the Halloween post, candy isn’t really my thing. But if it’s baked—and especially if it has a delicious crust!—I am in love. I grew up in a Chinese family eating delicious Chinese food. My mom is an excellent Chinese cook, BUT she never baked. Never ever ever. Ever. Our ovens—two of them!—were used for storage until Thanksgiving rolled around, when my dad would make his turkey basted in green onions, garlic, and soy sauce, and stuffed with sticky rice and Chinese sausage.

Then all the pots and pans would go back in the oven for another year. The result is that I was left with a serious case of Pastry Envy. I’ve been trying to make up for this affliction all my adult life. But wait! I’m not here to talk about my favorite pastries. I wanted to spend this blog post discussing some of my favorite Chinese and Taiwanese desserts. Some of them may even have been mentioned in Silver Phoenix!


Holiday Desserts

These are desserts that often are centered around a specific holiday.

babaofan Greenwillow
Ba Bao Fan (Eight Treasure Rice)
This is the only Chinese dessert I ever remember my mom making back in Taiwan—when I was only a little girl. She didn’t do it often because it was quite troublesome to make. It’s called “treasure” because it includes ingredients that were dear, including dates, nuts, and crystallized fruit. The rice part is sweet sticky rice, and the entire dessert is steamed. It’s often served during the Chinese New Year (based on the lunar calendar).

fagao Greenwillow
Fa Gao (Raised Cake)

A simple sponge cake that is also steamed and served during Chinese New Year. “Fa” is a homonym for prosperity. Thus, the prosperity cake is eaten for good luck in the new year.

niangao Greenwillow
Nian Gao (Year Cake)

A sticky rice cake sometimes made with red beans, also served during the new year. It can be steamed, or sliced and pan fried. “Gao” is a homonym for high or tall, so can be construed as having a high or prosperous new year. (The Chinese love plays on words and double meanings.)

mooncake Greenwillow
Moon Cake

Eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The moon cakes are traditionally filled with mung bean, red bean, or lotus. The more treasured ones will have a salted egg yolk.

tangyuan Greenwillow
Tang Yuan (Soup Circle)

Chewy rice balls sometimes stuffed with peanut paste, sesame paste, or red bean.  The rice balls are boiled and can be served in a sweet broth or simply in water. A mostly autumn and winter time dessert since it’s served hot.


Dim Sum Desserts

These desserts may be more familiar to the average American, as dim sum is quite popular here. The food and tradition are Cantonese. Below are my personal favorites.

eggtarts Greenwillow
Egg Tarts
These are a favorite dessert for those dim summing. An egg custard dessert with a flaky pastry crust.

sesameballs Greenwillow
Sesame Balls
Another popular staple. Deep fried with a sesame encrusted skin and chewy middle. Sesame balls are usually stuffed with mung bean, red bean, or lotus paste.

custardbuns Greenwillow
Custard Buns

These are a personal favorite of mine. Small steamed buns filled with delicious rich custard. Happiness is a fresh steamed custard bun!

mangopudding Greenwillow
Mango Pudding

The texture is more like flan. Light and perfect on a hot day. Often drizzled in sweet coconut milk.  Yes, please.


Taiwanese Desserts
I grew up in Taipei, and these desserts are near and dear to my heart. The Taiwanese have a lot of cold and iced desserts because it gets so hot during the summer.

chuabing Greenwillow
Chua Bing (Crushed Ice)
A personal favorite because you can pick and choose your toppings. Anything from almond jelly cubes to mochi balls to green or red bean to taro, fresh fruits of all kinds and drizzled in sugar water and condensed milk. My favorite toppings are featured: taro and tang yuan with condensed milk.

mochi Greenwillow
Mochi

Popular in many Asian countries, Taiwanese mochi are often cut into bite-sized cubes and made of different flavors such as green tea, peanut, sesame, green and red bean, etc. Some are filled with pastes.

boba Greenwillow
Boba

A wildly popular drink. Boba (or tapioca balls or tapioca pearls) didn’t become popular until more recently. The milk teas can come in all flavors from Thai iced tea to coconut to rose. You suck up the chewy tapioca balls through wide straws. I’m drinking a black barley tea in this photo with some pudding cubes added. Yum.

So there you have it, just a brief tour through the delights of Chinese and Taiwanese desserts. I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did eating…er, writing this post. =)

Fury of the Phoenix GreenwillowCindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix and it’s sequel Fury of the Phoenix, which goes on sale in April.

34 Comments

  1. sue laybourn says:

    I’m not so crazy about the red bean based puddings. I remember being presented with a plate of little squares of red bean and something, when I was in Beijing, I didn’t like it much, but that Eight Treasure rice sounds lovely.

    What I fancy even more is your Dad’s recipe for turkey!

  2. Leah Cypess says:

    Can we vote on which ones we want Cindy to send us? I’m torn between the moon cakes and the Boba. But will accept both.

  3. Wow, Cindy! I really want to try that Mango flan. I LOVE sesame balls, but that’s the only one of these deserts I’ve ever tried.

  4. Oh, man. I lived in Taiwan for two years and I remember every single one of those! I think I ate my weight in custard buns and mango shua bing alone. OM NOM! My keyboard is sufficiently drenched with drool now.

  5. Jeannie Lin says:

    These desserts make me so nostalgic! I wonder if any of them appear in Fury of the Phoenix? :)

    Can’t wait for next spring!

  6. cindy says:

    jeannie, the million dollar question.
    ai ling doesn’t eat as much, i don’t think
    in Fury. hehe!

    leah, you’ve never had boba? there MUST
    be boba in boston area. i cry for you if not.

    sue, you know, my family doesn’t have
    official recipes. we cook off the cuff.
    but it was delicious!! red bean is the most
    common paste for sweet things and NOT my favorite
    either. i LOVE lotus. or taro. (which is what
    i named ai ling’s cat. haha!)

    michele, try more of the sweet stuff if
    you’re at dim sum!

    marie, yes! someone who knows what i’m talking
    about. i drool with you. we drool in harmony
    and commiseration. =)

  7. Hallie says:

    Oh my gosh, I have so many happy memories of late-night trips to get shaved ice with my college roommates. My favorites were mango pudding and almond jelly, lots of fresh fruit, tapioca, and lots of condensed milk. I wish I could find some where I live, but I think I’ll have to experiment with a snow cone machine instead.

  8. cindy says:

    hallie, yay! someone else who has fond memories!
    the ice is easy, it’s the wonderful toppings to
    choose from that are hard to replicate. my foto
    doesn’t include a favorite from taiwan: barley.
    very chewy and adds to the chua bing. but not
    many shops have it as a choice here.

    if you ever visit los angeles, go find a chua
    bing shop! =)

  9. sophia says:

    dan tat (egg tart is my top fave!) i had no idea there were so many other different kinds of dessert. yummy!

  10. When I lived in Boston, I always got Boba at Tealuxe on Newbury Street because it was walking distance from my office. But I’m sure there are plenty of wonderful places in Chinatown as well.

    My mouth is watering moon cakes and also your dad’s turkey recipe. YUM!

  11. cindy says:

    sophia, you didn’t? i’m not a huge
    fan of that, actually. or the seasame
    balls! (both dim sum classics.) my favorite
    is the steamed custard buns. SO GOOD!

    jennifer! yay! perhaps leah can go get some boba!
    Boba Brings World Peace.

  12. whaddayamean says:

    Cindy, I am NOT happy with this post. Not ONE LITTLE BIT. Where am I supposed to get all of these things RIGHT NOW?!?!?

    ::droooooool::

  13. Kristan says:

    Ah, if only I could get even half of these (at good quality) here in Cincinnati… {sigh} Thank goodness I’m from Houston, so I can go home and visit Chinatown from time to time!

  14. cindy says:

    whadddaymean–if you mean NOT happy as in you’ll fly out to san diego so i can take you to eat most of the things here, then yes,
    NOT happy. =) remember those deep fried taro balls? i couldn’t find a foto of that. darn it.

    kristan, no dessert love in cincinnati? i cry you big tang yuan tears. =(

    lunch time!

  15. Wow, Cindy, I’m usually all chocolate all the way when it comes to desserts, but you have definitely piqued my interest! Yum 😀

  16. Jan O'Hara says:

    It never fails: the day I’m trying to stay away from sweets is the day you’ll be rhapsodizing over them, Cindy. However, if you absolutely, positively *forced* me to choose one to try today, it would have to be the mango pudding. I love my chocolate, but I love fruit even more.

  17. Timothy says:

    There are so many delicious desserts listed here! These are the ones that made me want to reach through the screen to eat them up: egg tarts, moon cake, and sesame balls. I need a Wonka TV screen on my laptop!

  18. JennW says:

    “Happiness is a fresh steamed custard bun!” <— ha – that made me laugh! But those look sooo good!

  19. cindy says:

    cheryl, you know my deep true love for pastries.
    but these desserts certainly rival them!

    jan, apologies, and when we meet, i will feed you. =)

    tim, hoorah!! Wong TV!

    jenn, ha! it should be a fortune cookie fortune!
    perhaps i can write fortunes as a side job? =D

  20. Virginia says:

    This post just makes me question Bit-O-Honeys even more. Really.
    Cindy, Thank you!

  21. cindy says:

    thank you, v! it was loads of fun to do!

  22. Heather says:

    OMNOMNOMNOMNOM

  23. I like mooncakes.

    There. I’ve said it.

    I mean, I’ve had bad ones. They have kind of a bad rap. But the good ones? YUMMY!!!

  24. cindy says:

    heather, ditto!

    lisa, moon cakes have a bad rep?
    what? where? when? i esp love the
    pineapple ones–tho i don’t think they
    are as traditional.

  25. Amy H. says:

    Cindy, I liked every last one of these growing up, except (would you believe) Boba! That I only came to like as an adult. We seldom ate dessert at home, but we would get it when we were out, or my mom would make some things for a special occasion. I also liked some snacks/candies, like those Chinese rectangular funnel cakes and the dark candy wrapped in rice paper that would melt in your mouth (names escape me). Almond floats are also a favorite of mine. A lot of Westerners I know don’t like the lack of sweetness and richness in Chinese and Taiwanese desserts, but that’s precisely what I love about them.

  26. cindy says:

    hi amy!! we never had desserts w our
    dinners either. we’d end with soup (i never
    knew if that was cultural thing or just our family)
    and fruit. and i def do think most western
    desserts are too sweet. it’s why i love crusts,
    it balances things for me. and i don’t like
    frosting very much.

  27. laura says:

    I haven’t been able to avoid come back. They have a very good apparience. Above all the Bao Bao Fan and the Moon Cakes. I love the custard…I think I’m going to die…

  28. cindy says:

    laura, muchas gracias!!
    Bao Bao Fan y Moon Cakes son
    muy deliciosos. no puedo escoger
    un favorito!

    (sorry, my spanish isn’t great. =)

  29. Your posts always make me hungry!

  30. cindy says:

    david, hee!!

    v made me do it!! =)

  31. Llehn says:

    This is one of the reasons why I love your writing, Cindy. I was hungry all the time when I was reading Silver Phoenix. That reminds me I still have some moon cake in the fridge 😀

  32. Paul Zakris says:

    OMG they look sooooooo delicious!!!!!

  33. Paul Zakris says:

    Okay I just Saw VADs post. BIT-O-HONEYS RULE!!!!!!!!!!!!

  34. cindy says:

    lesley, ha! thank you!
    i had many lotus and pineapple
    moon cakes this year.

    paul, i’d say save a bit-o-honey
    for me but nevermind! i’ve never
    had them before.

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