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April 05, 2004


Kip Manley

Green tea ice cream with red bean paste on top: yum! --And though I've never had actual durian fruit hereabouts, the little Vietnamese grocery over on Belmont once had--you know those stick-like sugar wafers that usually come in vanilla and dry dusty chocolate and a pink strawberry Quik-like flavor? They had those in durian, which, not at all the same thing, I'm sure, but made for interesting pre-game snacking this one time. And a friend of mine scored some durian popsicles once, but I wasn't there at the time.

Gastronomica (which, by the way, excellent magazine, highly recommended, they had me with the article on native Antarctic cooking) had a piece on the Thai egg tarts once, and the photos were fine food porn: little white ramekins filled with the most incredible sunny, yolky gold, a color just on the edge of what's naturally possible...

Matt Brown

Wow, Belle, thanks for the info. Lots of that stuff sounds delicious. It's really criminal that I've been to San Diego for so long, yet I've sampled so little Asian cuisine.

Anne C.

Green tea ice cream is okay. But what I really love is almond cookie ice cream from the Chinese Ice Cream factory on Bayard St in NYC. Could not recommend highly enough.


Mango with sticky rice qualifies as a weird dessert? Maybe I've been living in the Bay Area too long. (I gotta disagree on the bubble tea, too. I'd never made the eyeball connection, but even so it's tasty.)


There's an obvious problem with lieing about hating foods one likes, which is that one must then remember one has told that lie about that particular food. This lieing would sooner or later get you found out, and cause the loss of at least some friends.

ben wolfson

Unless the pearl tea you can get in Singapore is much worse than what's available in Chinatown in Chicago and all the hell over Irvine, which I doubt, you are wrong wrong wrong in your assessment. Tasty tea + sweet, slimy balls of tapioca = good clean fun. And the big pearls & straws make passable projectile weapons.

And corn ice cream sounds pretty damn good to me.


On Mitchell's Ice Cream: Try their Halo-Halo dessert (despite the purple color, it's delicious). Their Ginger icecream is really, really good, but they only make it about two months out of the year.

Found a green tea & ginger icecream in a supermarket on Cortland yesterday...mmmm.


What about the little round cakes they sell on that bakery on Grant in Chinatown? They're great.

Jacob T. Levy

And the Indian sweets are a set of mistakes all their own. I've never understood how the various Indian cuisines can get every other course so very right and get dessert so very, very wrong. And it's not even as though all the Indian cuisines serve the same desserts. They go wrong in at least somewhat different ways. But wrong they all go, by my palate.

Nasi Lemak

Herewith the rules of Dessert Logic, the product of thirteen hours in British Airways economy class:

- Anything that could plausibly be part of an English fried breakfast is Not dessert; thus red or green beans are Not Dessert.

- Agar-Agar is Not Dessert. It is for biology class, where if you're lucky the samples you grow will end up hospitalizing your teacher.

- there is a tragic Cantonese dish involving a bowl of almond cream (yum) and a brainlike goop called silver fungus. This demonstrates the exclusivity rule of Dessert: anything which contains Not Dessert becomes Not Dessert. (Imagine enthusiastically spooning up the almond cream as it runs off the brainlike goop. see?)

- Dessert includes as major constituents only things from the list below:

fruit; chocolate; dairy-products; sweet pastries, biscuits, sponges and possibly breads; sugar-related-program-activities; nuts; minor flavourings (vanilla, coffee etc)

There is a partial exemption for rice, and the British are required to apologise for suet puddings. Finally the proof that pandan cake is Dessert is left as an exercise for the reader.


Mango with sticky rice qualifies as a weird dessert?

these are people who do not understand the pleasures of agar-agar (which cognoscenti of the zha persuasion refer to as china grass). read their culinary disquisitions with polite scientific interest in the barbarian mindset.

They go wrong in at least somewhat different ways.

even the non-milky ones, non-neon-orange ones? i find that while encouraging barbarians towards milky desserts is a lost cause, a sweet puri goes over all right.

Belle Waring

I suppose I should have left out the fruit section once I said I was aiming for "weird" desserts; I geant you there's nothing weird about mango with sticky rice. I just included fruits for completeness' sake, because a lot of people who think they don't like Asian dessert aren't eating what actual asian people are having for dessert, namely, cut up tropical fruits. Nothing wrong there. But, barbarian or not, I'm sticking to my guns on the agar-agar, Drapeto.


My all time-favorite "asian" dessert was purchased in a chinese restruant in St. Petersburg, russia. It gets bonus points for it's great translation back in to english as the "fragile bannana". It's a bannana in a sweet batter, deep fried, and then covered in molten suger (much better than the honey option, by the way.) As you eat it and burn the hell out of your mouth you can't help but think, "oh, this is so good, and so fragile..."


Don't forget "dao suan"--split green beans (they are yellow in color) in soup flavored with rock sugar, pandan leaves and thickened with sweet potato flour. Served hot with "you tiao" (Chinese fried dough sticks). Belle: if you don't like agar-agar and grass jelly, looks like you won't like "gui ling gao" either (Chinese herbal jelly, with emphasis on "Chinese herbal"). I remember gulping down bowls of grass jelly cubes in milk and sugar syrup as a boy. Grass jelly's supposed to have quasi-medicinal ("cooling") properties.

I've just had a most successful Hainanese Chicken rice dinner...and wishing for some Ah Boling. Too bad it's seems so hard to find Pandan leaves round the Bay Area. (Anyone knows?)

Belle Waring

Yeah, Loy, I wondered if I wouldn't make you hungry for Ah Boling with this post. Mmmmm. I didn't really know about pandan leaves when I still lived in the bay area, so I can't say, but have you tried Oakland Chinatown? Lots of the stores are run by Vietnamese people, but they do tend to have a good selection of fruits and veggies (even durian, but not very good ones. How can I tell this? Because the whole street doesn't smell like durians when they are piled up on a table outside...)


Haha...well, durians are one thing. They are everywhere! (frozen variety for 99c/lb at Ranch 99; but it's just not the same...) Pandan leaves, and for that matter, the sweet dark sauce used for Popiah--they are just too Singapore-Malaysian to be easily found. But we'll will try again: after all, we did find salted fish, preserved eggs, salted eggs, Chinese New Year cakes ("nian gao"), dried longans and dried red dates there.

Which reminds me: don't forget sweet potato soup, with sugar, dried longan and a generous amount of ginger. And I've just been told (by wifey) that ginger is classic confinement (i.e., post delivery) food.

Belle Waring

Sweet potato soup is good. I actually got the name of a special confinement food delivery service from my Ob-Gyn, and I'm thinking of signing up. It might all be too "herbal", though...one Chinese confinement tradition I can get behind is that I'm supposed to be drinking a shot of Benedictine every night. You know, because of the herbs.


The idea that Matthew Yglesias, of all people, has decided that he's not narcissistic, self-obsessed or irritating enough, leaves me struck with something approaching horror.

Jeremy Osner

Hey Belle, how do you feel about sago? I mean the gooey balls of very little flavor that get served (IME) in tea or on top of ice cream. I feel like I should like them, it seems like a fun thing to do with ice cream in theory, but last time I had it (Friday) it seemed to detract more than it added.

Mitch Mills

Great, and hunger-inducing, post. (One thing I like about Chinese is the separate words for being hungry as in having an empty stomach, and being hungry as in just wanting to have the pleasure of eating.)

Is the purple yam ice cream you mention maybe made with taro? Taro's sort of potato-like, but softer and less dry, and it turns a slight purplish shade when you cook it. I think the Mandarin name for it is yu nai, if memory serves correctly. I really like taro, but I do think it's a strange thing to make desserts out of.

Speaking of desserts, most Chinese meals I've had, and I've had a lot, end with fruit. All the great variety of sweet stuff available isn't really "dessert" (i.e. something you have at the end of a meal), so much as sweets you have at other times of the day. Kind of like in a lot of the Meditteranean. Is this also the case with some of the Southeast Asian stuff you've covered?


I am pretty sure the purple yam is also known as 'ube' or 'ubi' slightly to the northeast of J&BHQ. It's Dioscorea, true yam, not Ipomoea, sweet potato, and really not taro, Colocasia. I think. It makes a garishly purple ice cream.

Surprised more candies haven't been mentioned yet. Haw flakes were my fave. Little disks of crisp astringent fruit leather, much like poker chips in size and color, packaged like fireworks. Took me years to figure out that 'haw' was actually the English word for the berry: haw thorn.

This is an American 'dessert', but brown rice and agar-agar do not make acceptable substitute ingredients for Rice Krispie Treats.

ben wolfson

Jeremy: I think that's what she was talking about with the bubble tea. Much as I like them in tea I think they'd be a bit weird on ice cream.


Hi Belle,

Have you ever had bai mu er (white tree fungus boiled with rock sugar)? It is the most horrifying thing I have ever tasted, and some pretty mediocre Chinese desserts are available in Atlanta, Georgia. The last sweet soup I had in a restaurant tasted, I swear to god, like blackeyed peas... But I don't think it is a dessert, it is some sort of herbal remedy that is "good for women," according to the friend who brought me some from Taiwan and cooked it up for me as a special treat. To my shame I could not even eat enough to be polite... the texture was like your description of agar-agar.

Mitch Mills

Oh, I know the difference between Dioscorea, Ipomoea, and Colocasia. I'm all into botany, especially as it relates to food. It's just I've never seen a purple yam, plus I think I vaguely remember seeing, maybe even trying, taro icecream or popsicles or something back when I lived in Shanghai. So I thought maybe Belle was talking about taro icecream and taro had been badly translated into English.

So do you know if the icecream is made from purple yams, or is it just colored purple to distinguish it from other flavors, the way coconut-flavored snow cones are often blue in the States?

I've had sweet soup made out of green mung beans or red azuki beans, and it does indeed taste strongly of black-eyed peas, although they're not very closely related at all. It was served as a regular dish, not as a dessert or sweet. It kind of registers as one of those category errors, i.e. "beans shouldn't be sweet like this." I actually thought it was fine though, I had no trouble eating it, it's just nothing I'd ever crave or order for myself. But I'm pretty good about making myself eat enough of almost anything to be polite, even sea cucumber.


Ube is pretty damn purple; makes a color of ice cream almost exactly like a grape juice float. I don't think it needs additional coloring (though if more were added in commercial production, it wouldn't surprise me).

Mitch Mills

Hmmm, I must seek out these seriously purple yams. The only Dioscorea I've ever had have had whitish or creamish colored flesh.


But, barbarian or not, I'm sticking to my guns on the agar-agar, Drapeto.

actually, "or not"s would get quite different response. tho, come to think of it, i'd assume that "Because some of them are actually good! No, really!" was a cruel parody of barbarianitude, so perhaps it works out the same.

i feel i should throw a few !!s in there but i fear i haven't quite the perky insouciance to carry it off!!


Coconut is blue in the US? I thought blue was raspberry.

Mitch Mills

It's been a long time since I ate a snowcone, and I don't think we had raspberry flavored ones back in the day. But you'd think they'd make the raspberry ones red. You know, like raspberries.

It's just that because coconut flesh is white, but a white snowcone looks like there's not any flavoring on it, that they decided it needed some color, and blue was probably not in use at the time (no blueberry snowcones back then either). I supposed they could have used the color of the husk, but I don't think a brown snowcone would look very nice. But hey, the banana ones are yellow.

There's no record of whether Frank Zappa ever ate a banana snowcone though.

Mitch Mills

Bold experiments with agar agar. Not my cup of tea at all, but an interesting read . . .

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