Tangyuan – a newly found love affair

The last day of Spring Festival is Lantern Festival. To celebrate this festival, everyone eats tāngyuán (汤圆-roughly translated as ‘soup balls’). I distinctly remember being introduced to these sticky balls many years ago in Australia. Our good Chinese friends kindly brought some over for dessert one evening. But, it was not a good memory. I remember the glutinous texture coating the inside of my mouth, making it difficult to swallow. And when I did swallow, I remember trying to hide the fact that it made me want to retch.

A lot has changed since then. I no longer turn my nose up at ‘red bean’ flavoured goods. Strangely-flavoured icypoles no longer gross me out. And tangyuan is now one of my favourite desserts. I’m not kidding.

The most common flavour is black sesame (黑芝麻 hēizhīma). And it’s super good. Not too sweet and you still have the graininess (??) of the sesame seeds.

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However, of course, someone made non-traditional chocolate ones. And man, they are sooooooooooo good. These ones had little chunks of peanuts inside. If you’re looking to try tangyuan for the first time, go for these.

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And of course, would it be a trip to a Chinese supermarket without me buying something silly? I ummed and ahhhed between strawberry and orange. I decided strawberry would probably be so super sickly sweet that I wouldn’t eat them, so orange it was. And the result? Glutinous fanta. That’s the only way to describe it.

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They are so simple to cook too. Just throw them in boiling water for a few minutes until they rise to the surface.

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Our local sichuan restaurant serves these boiled in a little bit of booze, and that’s also delish. I’m not sure what they use, but there’s definitely room for experimentation. And I should probably learn to make these too! Though the supermarket is a very easy option.

I was also told recently that there’s another type called yúanxiāo that are made with a special technique that can’t be replicated by hand. I’ll have to try these out next year… has anyone tried them before?

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A Night of Feasting

Hatsune is our favourite restaurant in Beijing. It was actually the first foreign restaurant that we ever visited after moving here. It has since opened another branch, which is positioned dangerously close to our house. Their Japanese menu is creative, fresh, delicious and every dish is a piece of art.

Room is a relatively new restaurant in Beijing. Their decor is bright and simple, evoking a feeling of space and fun. I’ve eaten there once, and the drinks were fantastic and the food yummy and well-presented.

So, you can imagine that when I saw an ad for Hatsroomie I started jumping up and down in excitement! Brian McKenna (from Room) and Alan Wong (from Hatsune) had prepared a 10-course menu together.

Brian McKenna’s Menu

Appetizer: Shellfish 1-2-3

A mini lobster burger, a freshly cracked oyster with lime and anise star flavoured crushed ice, lightly curried sweet potato soup, coconut foam and marinated shrimp. The crushed ice ‘popped’ in your mouth like those elf chocolates did back home! And this was the first time I’d drunk soup from a test tube!

1st Course: Crab and Avocado

Hand-picked crab meat with crushed avocado, sweetcorn sorbet and basil oil. The most amazing thing I’ve EVER eaten out of a cocktail glass. This was my favourite savoury thing on Brian’s menu.

2nd Course: Salmon and fois gras

Slow-cooked Norwegian salmon with spiced lentils, sauteed fois gras and herb creme fraiche. Fois gras goes surprisingly well with salmon.

Main Course: Beef and Bone

36 hour braised rib of Australian beef with sauteed bone marrow, paris mash and wild mushrooms.


Dessert: 1-2-3

Sweet breakfast (juice/eggs/toast/coffee); Pineapple, rum, coconut flavours; Hard-boiled lemongrass and mango egg; French toast/espresso foam/milk sorbet/coffee crumble. The dessert was out of this world. The concept of eating something that looks like an egg yet tastes like sweet mango is a sensory overload. The ‘coffee crumbles’ added an amazing texture to the foam and sorbet.

Alan Wong’s Menu

Appertizer:

Torched unagi and foie gras sushi ball, dashi poached spinach roll with shiitake mushroom and flying fish roe, miso marinated black cod in a lettuce wrap with shredded daikon and gobo root.


The Onsen (Spring Bath):

Lightly poached egg with chilled urchin, sashimi squid, salmon roe and black tobiko caviar in a dashi bath. This was my favourite thing on Alan’s menu. It was a flavour unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before. The texture was smooth and it glided down your throat. The roe and caviar ‘popped’ in your mouth as you sipped the cool, salty ‘soupiness’.

The Sukiyaki:

Premium marbled wagyu beef and seasonal vegetables. Sumptious beef. I just didn’t eat enough because by this stage I was getting pretty full and I wanted to save some space for dessert.

The Sweets:

Sticky rice and diced Lexie’s cupcake sushi roll topped with almonds and mango chutney; Diced mango, dragonfruit and asian grapefruit in a cookie spoon; Strawberry shortcake in a cookie spoon. Mmmm…. cupcake in a sushi roll. Genius. The cupcakes are from Beijing’s now-famous Lollipop Bakery.