Haw Berries & Kumquats

The Berries Best

This year, as last year, I was invited to be an expert on theBeijinger’s 2011 Restaurant Awards. Though sometimes the winners are rather consistent from year to year, the award ceremony is always fun to attend, and it’s interesting to see which new restaurant has managed to win the most hearts.

But alas, most of my favorite Chinese restaurants never win (a Sanlitun/Chaoyang-area location seems to be key to victory), so I have put together a short list of my picks for bests in Beijing. It doesn’t include all of theBeijinger’s categories – I’m omitting the ones I don’t know much about, and the ones for which I have nothing new to add. And I have some categories of my own – I can’t do a best picks without including my favorite cuisine, after all!


Though Da Gui (大贵) has some remarkable dishes, Jun Qin Hua (君琴花)’s traditional Guizhou dishes always hits the spot when I’m craving something spicy, pungent, and sour. Their mastery of the Guizhou fermented chili pepper (zaola jiao 糟辣椒) results in stir-fries that are simple yet deeply addictive with the unique, lightly boozy flavor of the peppers. The lazi ji (辣子鸡) is deceptively humble, with tender pieces of chicken buried beneath whole cloves of garlic and melt-in-your-mouth cubes of konjac root jelly (魔芋 moyu). It’s not as spicy as it looks: the smoky, golden-brown garlic mellows out the kick of chili pepper. Everything on the menu is delicious; this is my standby restaurant.


Chicken with peppers and konjac root jelly

Chicken with peppers and konjac root jelly (魔芋辣子鸡 moyu lazi ji) at Jun Qin Hua


In my mind, Yunnan could conceivably be divided into two categories, one that focuses on the traditional cooking of Yunnan’s many minorities and regions, and “modern” Yunnan that plays with new ingredients and cooking styles. For the former, I love Bao Qin Dai Wei (宝琴傣味), by the Central University of the Minorities. With authentic, reasonably priced Dai food, it makes one of the best hong san duo (红三剁) and hei san duo (黑三剁) in Beijing (the more-popular Golden Peacock next door seems to do deep-fried potato balls better, though).

For the latter category, I admit to liking quite a few of  the modern Yunnan restaurants, though they’re not memorable enough to justify the price tag (inflated, as always, for trendiness quotient and number of modern artists involved). Dianke Dianlai stands out for its fabulous spread of creative Yunnan food, with a variety of light, fresh dishes colorful in flavor and texture. It’s a great place to introduce friends to Yunnan.


(Suddenly surprised that this is not an actual category!) For a proper meal, Liu Zha Shi Fu (刘宅食府) excels at homestyle Beijing dishes and treats; their mastery of simple dishes like cold cucumber or fried eggs and wood ear is mesmerizing. For xiaochi (小吃), I love Lao Ciqikou for their fermented bean juice douzhi (豆汁), and Baiji Niangao for their red-bean and sticky rice roll dusted with soybean flour (lüda gun, “donkey rolling in mud,” 驴打滚) and glutinous rice cakes (切糕 qiegao).


Jin Fu Yan Bang (锦府盐帮) amazes me every time with its menu from which I want to order everything. It specializes in the food of the salt merchants from Zigong – not surprisingly, every bite is a burst of flavor that goes well beyond the prickly peppercorn.


The fresh, handmade buckwheat noodles at Xibei Youmian Cun (西贝莜面村) come in various forms and shapes, and can be steamed, boiled, or stir-fried. They’re perfectly al dente, with a wholesome nutty flavor and a springiness to every bite. My favorite is the 莜面窝窝 (youmian wowo), a honeycombed lattice of individual “tubes” of buckweat. Buckwheat noodles can also be found at Noodle Loft (面酷 Mianku), which specializes in excellent Shanxi noodles, including cat’s ears noodles and wide, chewy kudai mian (裤带面 “belt noodles”), and an excellent Chinese stout called Haidao Heipi (海岛黑皮).


One might naturally think about international restaurants here, but some Chinese restaurants also have excellent salads. Some of my favorites are the cold mint salad at almost any Yunnan restaurant but especially Yunteng Shifu (云腾食府) and Dianke Dianlai, and the salad I eat most often in Beijing, the da ban cai (大拌菜), a giant lettuce salad with cashews and a sweet peanut dressing at Fanqian Fanhou (饭前饭后).

Hot Pot

I’ve already said enough about why I love Ju Bao Yuan here.

Dim Sum

No place in Beijing does dim sum really well: the Sampan came close but it sadly closed with the demolition of the Gloria Hotel. Lei Garden impresses with many of its dim sum items, but fails when it comes to the classic changfen 肠粉, whose rice skins were tough and chewy instead of tender and silky.


When I crave everyday Taiwanese food, I go to Fanqian Fanhou (饭前饭后), and when I’m feeling fancy, I go to Shin Yeh (欣叶), lured by their fresh peanut-dusted mochi bites and red-bean and turnip pastries. I’m not obsessed with Din Tai Fung’s soup dumplings, but I like their delicate vegetable buns, perfectly done stir-fried pea leaves (清炒豌豆尖 qingchao wandou jian), and exceptional shaved ice desserts.


My affection is split evenly between some of the city’s best vegetarian restaurants: Still Thoughts (静思) and Lily’s Vegetarian (香草园) are both standbys, while Tianchu Miaoxiang (天厨妙香) is more of a special occasion due to its greater distance.

Most Impressive for Visitors

This one is easy: I always take guests to Na Jia Xiaoguan. The food definitely comes first, but Na Jia Xiaoguan also has a beautiful setting, like that of an old noble’s mansion. The wood-beamed decor and traditional wooden furniture are comfortable and majestic without being ostentatious; there are nice touches like greenery, talking mynah birds, and bronze wine pots. And the Manchu-inspired dishes, like braised venison, mashed lamb, and stuffed dates, are delicious and sophisticated.

Mashed lamb at Najia Xiaoguan

Mashed lamb (羊肉泥 yangrou ni) at Najia Xiaoguan

Taiwan Food Street, and the best Grass Jelly ever

I haven’t found much reason to like the new Qianmen Dajie: it’s a commercialized travesty of its former self, with hordes of tourists, a sterile atmosphere, and myriad chain shops (noteworthy gems include H&M and “Cliocoddle,” with the Lacoste crocodile). No surprise that I hardly go there!

Then one day my grandmother told me about a Taiwan Street that opened during the Spring Festival. It sounded potentially bad, but we gave it a chance one smog-ridden afternoon out of curiosity.

The "Taiwan in Style" (台湾映像) street just east of Qianmen Dajie

The "Taiwan in Style" (台湾映像) street just east of Qianmen Dajie

At first sight, “Taiwan in Style” (台湾映像) looks much like the rest of Qianmen’s deserted side streets. In the heavy smog, I felt like I was wandering around a movie set, on which money had been lavished but not a drop of historical authenticity or aesthetics. In the main square there was a giant cement (!) tree. It was supposedly a replica of a “famous” tree from the Alishan mountains in Taiwan. Next to the tree was an old train car, for which no explanation was given.

All was looking bleak for Taiwan Street…until we found a food court in the basement, and G noticed that they were speaking Taiwanese and using Taiwanese phrases. Suddenly we had to join the crowds lining up at the many stalls, all cheerfully peddling a variety of Taiwan treats. And since then, we’ve been back twice more.

"Cartwheel Pies" (车轮饼) stuffed with red bean paste

"Cartwheel Pies" (车轮饼) stuffed with red bean paste

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My favorite hot pot

Forget Ding Ding Xiang. Forget Donglaishun. When real Beijingers want a good mutton hot pot in the middle of winter, they head to Jubaoyuan, in Niu Jie.

Why Jubaoyuan? The mutton and beef are fresh and delicious, the prices are reasonable, the traditional bronze hot pots are steaming and atmospheric, and the shaobing are the best in Beijing.

bronze hot pots

There’s also no better place to experience the classic “hot and bustling atmosphere” (renao 热闹) of a well-loved Chinese venue – perfect for the depth of winter. Jubaoyuan is packed with families, couples, and groups of friends day and night, and there’s always a wait at prime meal hours.

One of the reasons for Jubaoyuan’s excellence is its location in Niu Jie (牛街), Beijing’s main Muslim Hui neighborhood. Niu Jie has a long history of purveying some of the city’s finest beef and mutton. Jubaoyuan is no exception to this tradition: it even has its own butcher around the corner from the restaurant, and it, too, always has a line snaking out the door. Both the restaurant and the butcher are also halal (清真 qingzhen), which Beijingers tend to associate with cleanliness and quality when it comes to traditional Beijing foods.

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Tangyuan: White, Black, and Marbled 黑白汤圆

Yuanxiao and tangyuan – glutinous rice balls stuffed with a range of fillings – are a must for the Lantern Festival (Yuanxiao Jie 元宵节) on the 15th of the first lunar month, or the first full moon of the new year. But since my family never gets tired of anything involving glutinous rice, we’ve already gone through several rounds of yuanxiao (purchased) and tangyuan, made by my grandmother. And as much as I love yuanxiao, nothing can beat my grandmother’s tangyuan.

Her fillings, for example, go beyond boundaries: Black sesame? Red bean? She combines them both, so the red bean paste is not cloyingly sweet. And then she adds walnuts, generous chunks of them: I dare you to find a Beijing vendor who uses as many walnuts as she does.

This year I too decided to make a few batches of tangyuan myself. It was surprisingly easy, and I ended up getting carried away with several variations: Traditional tangyuan, black rice tangyuan, and a combination of both – marbled black-and-white tangyuan.

The instructions below may look complicated but it’s really not. There is a trick to getting your tangyuan skin to be glutinous, sticky, chewy, and easy to handle, so if the yuanxiao from Beijing’s traditional pastry makers aren’t enticing enough, you can try your hand at making your own!

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It’s yuanxiao season!

Happy year of the rabbit, everyone! (In Vietnam, it’s the year of the cat, incidentally.)

If you’re looking for special Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival) treats, you can’t really do better than the niangao (年糕) from Mr Bai of Bai Ji Niangao. His glutinous rice cakes are perfectly textured, generously layered with red bean paste, and well worth lining up for. (It’s also important to eat niangao for Spring Festival to ensure that the new year is ‘higher’ or more gao than the previous one.)

While you’re there, you may also notice that Mr. Bai has something different: yuanxiao (元宵).

These stuffed balls of glutinous rice flour are sold only from the few weeks before Chinese New Year to the Lantern Festival (on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month, February 17th in 2011). This year, Mr. Bai started selling yuanxiao as early as January 15th, so they’re around for about a month in total. They’re stuffed with a wide range of delicious fillings, and cooked by gently simmering in clear water (Chinese style) or with the addition of ginger and roasted peanuts (northern Vietnamese style).

Black sesame yuanxiao from Huguosi Xiaochidian

Black sesame yuanxiao from Huguosi Xiaochi Dian

Yuanxiao, however, are not to be confused with tangyuan (汤圆), though to the untutored eye or mouth, they are nearly identical in form and function.  They both fulfill any craving for the utterly unique, sticky, chewy texture of glutinous rice, and are especially satisfying on a cold winter’s morning. Their perfect white spheres represent the word tuanyuan (团圆), or the idea of reuniting (团) in the family circle (圆) for the holidays.

Tangyuan are a treat of southern China, and eaten (I think) year-round, while yuanxiao are northern, from the Beijing-Tianjin region, and only made from Spring Festival until the eponymous Lantern Festival (元宵节, Yuanxiao Jie). Yuanxiao are also larger, with a “chewier”, bouncier skin, while tangyuan are softer and more yielding. If you like the sticky-chewy texture of mochi, yuanxiao are more for you.

The textural difference is no doubt, due to the construction: Yuanxiao are made like a snowball, rolled in glutinous rice flour. The filling is first formed into little spheres, which are then shaken together in a grass basket full of glutinous rice flour. As they roll around, they pick up flour. Every once in a while, the growing yuanxiao are dipped in water to moisten them and help them pick up more rice flour, until they reach ping pong ball size. In contrast, tangyuan (汤圆) are made dumpling-style: first the glutinous rice flour is mixed into a dough, which is then formed by hand into flat rounds and wrapped around the filling.

Yuanxiao from Bai Ji Niangao

Yuanxiao from Bai Ji Niangao

Yuanxiao are always made and sold fresh at traditional pastry and sweets/snacks shops. If you don’t eat them on the day of purchase, freeze them as soon as possible and eat within 2 to 3 days. If it comes from the frozen goods aisle of a supermarket, it’s definitely tangyuan.

The venerable Daoxiangcun (稻香村), the aforementioned Bai Ji, and Huguosi Xiaochi Dian (护国寺小吃店) all sell yuanxiao around this time of year. I’ve tried them all before; this year I stuck to Bai Ji and Huguosi, my two favorites. Mr. Bai is a decided wizard of glutinous rice, and Huguosi is a well-respected shop for traditional Beijing snacks, pastries, and treats – every morning for breakfast it draws a busy crowd of hutong residents, elderly Beijingers, workers, and traffic cops stationed nearby.

Black sesame filling, Huguosi Xiaochi Dian

Black sesame filling, Huguosi Xiaochi Dian

Unfortunately, the Huguosi yuanxiao were not as wonderful as I remembered from past years. The fillings, in black sesame and hawberry (shanzha 山楂) flavors, were too sugary – the granules of sugar dominated the hawberry filling, in fact. The glutinous rice skin, however, was delightfully chewy and bouncy, slightly thicker than the skin of Baiji Niangao, though I don’t mind that.

The yuanxiao from Bai Ji are some of the best I had, though certain fillings are superior to others. The sticky rice skin looks floury and altogether precarious when raw, but once cooked, it sets perfectly into a glossily smooth yet sticky texture. The black sesame (黑芝麻 heizhima) filling was my favorite, but I also like the osmanthus flower (桂花 guihua), with an indescribably sweet but not cloying fragrance. The “five nut” filling (五仁 wuren) could have used more nuts, and while the hawberry variety had more berry flavor than that of Huguosi, it was still not enough hawberry for me.

Bai Ji Niangao 白记年糕Address and map

Huguosi Xiaochidian 护国寺小吃店
93 Huguosi Dajie [map]
Xicheng District
Tel: (10) 6618 1705

214 Dongsi Beidajie, Dongcheng District [map]
(just south of the southeast exit of Zhangzizhong Lu subway stop)
Tel: (10) 6402 1798<

To cook yuanxiao: Bring a pot of water to the boil, and add the yuanxiao one at a time, stirring gently as you do so. Turn the heat down to low and simmer, stirring every few minutes to make sure the yuanxiao don’t stick to each other or the bottom of the pot. They’re ready when they have expanded in size and have floated near the surface for a few minutes; it should take a total of 8-10 minutes for fresh and an additional 3-4 minutes for frozen. You don’t have to boil them in plain water: variations include fermented rice wine, ginger, and red bean soup.

Introducing the Guide to Bread Baking in China

I have been baking sourdough bread for more than a year now, and it occurs to me that I’ve learned an awful lot in that time. Not only how to knead dough by hand, or how to shape a loaf using minimal counter space, or how to take care of a starter – but also how to do it all in Beijing, where much of the equipment essential to baking hearth-style rustic loaves are not the most readily available.

But I’ve learned all of that too. How to improvise a banneton, or a couche. Where to find a baking stone, or freshly milled flour. I’ve discovered small Chinese baking shops on Taobao, and found other expats interested in bread baking.

Five-grain multigrain sourdough from Hamelman

Five-grain multigrain sourdough from Hamelman

I thought it would be nice to share this information with you, as without help I couldn’t have gotten started, either: specifically Eric A., and his article in the Insider’s Guide to Beijing, 5th edition (2009), p101, which led me to this wonderful shop.  I hope you will find this equally helpful and exciting, whether you are baking bread or even just looking for help deciphering all the different varieties of flour available here.

Happy explorations, yeasted and otherwise


At least 18 very delicious things I ate in 2010

This is not quite a list, as I seem to have missed the season of lists, but rather a brief look at some of the most delicious things I encountered last year. It’s also far from complete or definitive – perhaps a more accurate description would be “delicious things I ate last year that I am craving right now.”

  • Walnut rustique at Pekotan Deli. This Japanese bakery/deli makes some of the best bread in Beijing, a fact which should be no surprise to anyone who knows the dedication of bakers in Japan. Their baguettes have a shatteringly crisp golden shell, a beautiful, open crumb, and a wonderful wheaty flavor. The walnut rustique are cute little twists, fragrant with walnuts and perhaps also olive oil? I almost always scoop up the second-to-last almond croissants, too.

  • Shaobing with braised beef (牛肉烧饼 niurou shaobing) at Long Xing Sheng (隆兴盛). These are baked sesame buns (shaobing) worth queueing for, even in the depth of winter. Owally first discovered this place, and soon I was addicted as well. The shaobing have a sesame-studded crispy shell, a warm, multi-layered interior, and are especially delightful when just out of the oven. Add in generous slices of the tender halal, braised beef (酱牛肉 jiang niurou), and this is about as wonderful a sandwich as you could have in Beijing, and for only RMB 4, too.  Take that, expensive expat burgers!
  • Hot pot at Jubaoyuan (聚宝源). My only regret about Jubaoyuan is that I do not visit nearly enough. In fact I don’t go to anywhere in Niu Jie (牛街,Beijing’s Hui Muslim neighborhood) as often as I should, but especially not at the dinner hour. The lamb here is fresh and flavorful, the hot pots are bronze, and the yipin shaobing (一品烧饼) are pan-fried just before serving to a golden crisp. Is there anything better on a warm winter’s night?
  • Niangao from Bai Ji Niangao (白记年糕), in Niu Jie. This pretty much has its honored place on my lifetime most-delicious things list. I’ve said a lot about it in the past; you can read all about it here. I also love their yuanxiao (元宵) – real honest-to-goodness Beijing-style yuanxiao, which are made by rolling like a snowball in a basket of rice flour, not from a dough wrapped around a filling, like tangyuan.Bai Ji only makes yuanxiao from the few weeks before the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) to Yuanxiao Jie (1st lunar month, 15th day), so they should be starting any day now!
  • Dill-encrusted codfish, over a bed of wild rice, at Modo. This may just be my favorite restaurant that opened in 2010. I love not being confined to the appetizer-main-dessert here, and ordering any combination of savory and sweet small plates for sharing. Everything  we tried was creative and fresh, including a crispy potato and grilled octopus salad and a revelatory white chocolate mousse with blackcurrant sorbet (and usually I don’t even like white chocolate). But the tender, richly flavored cod stole the show.
  • Shaved ice, Din Tai Fung. Everyone raves about the stuffed buns at Din Tai Fung, but the desserts at this Taiwanese chain are equally fine. Their shaved ices have the texture of fresh-fallen snow, feathery soft with the barest hint of crunch. I can never decide between the cool, jelly-like almond tofu (杏仁豆腐) served over milk-infused ice or the combination ice (综合刨冰) with its chewy taro mochi balls, among the best I’ve ever had. I’m eagerly awaiting the end of winter.
  • Smoked bamboo, at Poyanghu. Most bamboo dishes in Beijing don’t compare in flavor to the fresh bamboo in southern China, but this smoked bamboo is an  exception (probably because it’s been preserved!). It’s savory and earthy, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s been cooked with la rou (streaky pork 腊肉) either.

Finally, here are a few of my favorite things that I made in 2010: pumpkin brioche buns, apricot tart, pumpkin mochi balls, tart lemon tart using Meyer lemons, and of course, the one that started it all, hawberry & kumquat tart. I should also mention G’s cooking, especially his multi-bean stews, chili, and stuffing, which have powered us through the winter wonderfully well so far. Now here’s to a new year of exploring Beijing’s restaurants and specialties, baking, and hopefully far more visits to Niu Jie!

Black sesame yogurt cake 黑芝麻酸奶蛋糕

black sesame yogurt cake

Recently we’ve started ordering organic yogurt from Green Yard Organic Dairy, based in Yanqing County. Though it’s not as thick and creamy as unsweetened Herun Yogurt ( 和润酸奶), I’ve come to prefer Green Yard because it’s local, organic, and comes in a recyclable  paper carton. I loved Herun, which is also local, but it’s sold in little plastic tubs that have been piling up in my house, and I’m running out of ways to reuse them.

The only real downside to Green Yard is that they deliver 8 cartons at a time, a bit overwhelming. Even after giving away a few cartons, we still had too many. Freezing them wasn’t an option: the few I tried became oddly grainy after defrosting.

And then I remembered my favorite yogurt cake. Perhaps I’m a fickle person, but I’m always moving on to new recipes. This is unfortunate for G., who rarely gets a second try at something he loved the first time. My excuse is that it’s more fun for me to always be making something new – anything that he really likes, he can learn how to make them.

Fortunately, this yogurt cake satisfies both my desire for something new and his fondness for an old favorite.  The original recipe is a wonderfully versatile blank canvas, ideal for any flavors you fancy. I’ve made blueberry, lemon, and hawthorn berry before, with excellent results. This time I also added about two tablespoons of my sourdough starter, leftover from feedings, which I think help gave it some extra rise.

And happily, the black sesame version turned out to be one of the most delightful yogurt cakes yet. The crumb is moist, fluffy, and tender, a beautiful shade of purple-black. The sesame was nutty and mellow and sweet, exactly what I wanted it to be. I wanted to bake a second one immediately upon finishing the first, but I was saved from this uncharacteristic maneuver by one small detail: we were out of yogurt.

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The Spectral Mahua Truck

Have you seen the mahua truck? It appears only after dark, lurking on dimly lit street corners. You can recognize it by the large glass cabinet that sits in the flatbed, stacked high with deep-fried, braided dough twists.

Mobile food is quite common in Beijing – think jianbing and candied hawberries – but they usually rely on pedal-powered transportation. I rarely ever see snack foods sold from gas-guzzling vehicles, until within a short span of weeks I saw not one but three mahua trucks. Is this the new trend?

mahua 1

Mahua (麻花) are a specialty of Tianjin, about 100km east of Beijing. They resemble the larger, more complex braided loaves of challah, but they’re actually quite hard, crunchy, deep-fried, and glazed in a syrup of rock sugar or sometimes honey. I like them in small quantities, but these are seriously hefty: one whole log would make a very good weapon against intruders, or perhaps a doorstop for your palace gates. No wonder they need trucks to haul them all around.

Some observations about mahua trucks:

1. They all claim to be selling Tianjin mahua, though their license plates are invariably from some other province. They get a bit shifty-eyed when you ask them to explain this discrepancy and bluster away the answer.
2. They all drive the same model of mini-truck.
3. They only appear after dark.
4. One of them claims Yabao Lu as one of his favorite haunts.
5. There’s always 2-3 sellers lounging around the mini-truck. This is not unlike how the Xinjiang apricot-nut cake sellers bunch together, and it sometimes has the same menacing effect. The mahua sellers also carry a large knife to saw apart their massive, brick-like dough twists.

I may be imagining things, but all the evidence here points to the existence of a mahua gang, or at the very least a mahua smuggling ring. Are they dedicated to bringing Tianjin’s much-lauded snack food to the rest of China? Or do they have some more sinister purpose? Perhaps the most effective concealment for contraband is a heap of deep-fried sweets that can reputedly keep for over 3 months in the winter… (supposedly mahua are made and fried in a way that there is no moisture, which prevents it from spoiling)

I of course bought a mahua out of curiosity. Not only did I want to see how long I could keep it going in my cabinet of curiosities, but they also looked much better than the packaged variety that one normally finds in Beijing. There were a multitude of flavors available, including chestnut, walnut, jujube (Chinese dates), honey, and even more that I can’t remember. I opted for chestnut (it seemed seasonal, though in retrospect not the most exciting choice).

Upon my first nibbles, however, no flavor other than that of sugar, dough, and sesame could be discerned. After some research, I discovered that all the flavor is apparently contained in one braid in the center of the mahua. It’ll take patience and perhaps months for me to get there, unless I decide to host a mahua-eating party or something. I’m not really holding my breath.

mahua 2

If you want to try to find the mahua men, they are in the Yabao Lu (雅宝路) area “almost every night”, on Xinzhong Jie (新中街) west of Hotel G/Destination/Gongti West Gate about once a week, and at the Qinghua Donglu (清华东路) and Wangzhuang Lu (王庄路) intersection north of Wudaokou. They’re RMB 12 per jin (half-kilo); you can ask for half a mahua, which will weigh about 1kg.

Pumpkin mochi balls with black sesame and red bean paste

pumpkin mochi with red bean paste and black sesame filling

When the ginkgo trees turn golden, when the flower seller has seas of long-tendriled chrysanthemums and the vegetable seller has pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, then we know that fall has arrived. Beijing’s autumn is its most beautiful season, but also its most fleeting. Thinking of autumnal treats back home, Thanksgiving feasts and pumpkin sweets, I made these pumpkin mochi filled with black-sesame and red bean paste. With their gold and black coloring, they are even, quite accidentally, in the spirit of Halloween.

pumpkin mochi with red bean paste and black sesame filling

The combination of ground black sesame (heizhima 黑芝麻) and red bean paste is not traditional, but it is one of my favorites. On its own, red bean paste (dousha 豆 沙) is quite sweet and a bit one-dimensional, and the addition of roasted, ground black sesame gives it nuttiness, richness, and depth. This makes it a perfect friend to the subtly sweet pumpkin, in flavor as well as looks – what more autumnal colors than deep burgundy and gold?

pumpkin mochi with red bean paste and black sesame filling

Mochi is very easy to make, and fun, too.  Though the pumpkin shape may look difficult, glutinous rice flour comes together as a very forgiving dough, pliable and easily molded. The key is to not add to much water during the dough mixing.

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