Cultural Tastes

Exploring the world of food, culture, and personal experience

Black sesame pudding with Tangyuan (湯團芝麻糊)

A favorite Cantonese dessert of mine is black sesame pudding, which is incidentally also a favorite of my mother’s. This soup is a hot, sweet dish, usually rather thick, made of ground black sesame and often sweetened with some sugar.

Soup to warm up to

Soup to warm up to

Often, glutinous rice balls are added to the soup. These balls, called tangyuan, are soft and sticky, and are also filled with black sesame. Tangyuan actually have a long history in China, and have been eaten for at least a thousand years (since the Song Dynasty 960-1279 AD). Actually, tangyuan do not have to be eaten in soup, nor do they have to contain sesame inside- and is often thought of as a festival food item… it is a very flexible term, but in this case, I prefer it to be eaten with the pudding!

Delicious sweet center

Delicious sweet center

Black sesame is actually nutritious for you, as explained in this site. My mother said that it is good for the hair.

Although it may be a stretch to find it at a normal Chinese restaurant, most Cantonese-style dessert houses will have it. In Germany, I was able to find instant powder mixes at the local Asian shop. The tangyuan was bought separately in the frozen foods section.

February 17, 2013 Chinese Foods , ,


A good old jelly doughnut. Sprinkled with powdered sugar with a soft sweet dough and red jelly interior. Who knew its origins was so old?

mmm... Donutmmm... Donut

mmm… Donutmmm… Donut

Called a Bismark in Canada, Pfannkuchen (pancake) in Berlin and East Germany, Krapfen in Austria, and Berliner in the rest of Germany, this delicious pastry is, like all donuts, fried dough with sugar and jam. In Germany it is usually available only around the time of New Years or Fasching (or Mardi Gras), the season before Lent. In the old days, the winter was harsh and the season of fasting would soon come, so frying dough in fat ensured more energy for the common people.

The history of the doughnut is already quite old. I’m sure humans can’t resist eating deep fried sweet things! Ancient Egyptians and Romans and Greeks ate them. In the 1600′s there is reference to the Berliner in Austria, where one famous baker in Vienna delivered many of donuts every year at the Faschings carnival. By the 1800′s millions of them were being sold and eaten in Austria. Another reference is to a German soldier-turned-baker in Berlin in the 1700′s, hence the name Berliner. Although various forms of topping existed, including honey and poppy seed, the jam filling did not become popular until it was widely available to the masses (after the second World War).

The bakeries are full of Berliner in Germany right now. So far, the most delicious I have eaten is from Cafe Lieb, pictured above. Absolute yum!

January 20, 2013 German Foods , , ,

Kartoffelpuffer – one of its kind

Here to kindly write about one of his favorite dishes is CaptainG! He cooked a batch just this last Christmas and we were very full and happy afterwards. Thanks very much for this contribution!

“Evolving through the ages the Kartoffelpuffer came to be known by many names in many different cultures — to some it is the Reiberdatschi or Reibekuchen (parts of Germany). To others it is the Gromperekichelchen (Luxembourg), Deruny (Ukraine), Draniki (Austria; Russia; Belarus) or potato pancake (US, UK). It can also be compared to hash browns (UK, US) or Rösti (Switzerland) with added eggs and flour. In Belarus it even is the national dish.

“The one I am describing here though is a particular one due to its effects.

The Kartoffelpuffer

The Kartoffelpuffer

“So what do you need? First and foremost it is the secret ingredient — you already know what it is. In addition you need onions, eggs and flour.

“Use everything in equal ratio (the main ingredient measured in kg, flour measured in teaspoons). So if you use 2.0 kg of the main ingredient, you want to use 2 onions, 2 eggs and 2 tablespoons of flour. Hash the main ingredient and mix everything else in. If you really want to celebrate the day 2.0 kg per nose is a good start.

“The real secret is in the frying part. It seems easy, but to get a really good Kartoffelpuffer…it takes some skill. You will notice that the later ones are far better than the first few.

“Kartoffelpuffer are best served with apple purée on top.

“As to the effects of the Kartoffelpuffer mentioned above…eat and enjoy! For me personally the Kartoffelpuffer is more than a dish…it is a tradition.”

January 2, 2013 German Foods ,

Cheese Fondue

A very Happy New Year to you all! Although this blog came into being rather late in 2012 I hope that I keep promoting and writing about all the delicious things around us!

Let’s look at a much loved wintry meal in Europe, a national dish in Switzerland, the cheese fondue. It is a mixture of melted cheese and alcohol (white wine, cherry brandy aka Kirsh), garlic, and spices such as pepper and nutmeg. The cheese and wine forms an emulsion that keeps the mixture smooth and not clumpy (similar to how some pasta sauces are made). The mixture is prepared in a fondue pot that is kept heated throughout the meal. Bread is diced into smaller pieces. A thin fondue fork is given to each guest, and the guest dips the bread into the cheese.

It is common to mix several types of cheese to create your own custom fondue mix. Popular types of cheese include Vacherin, Gruyère, Appenzeller, and Emmentaler (or, it is common just to go to the cheese section of the supermarket and ask for fondue cheese). You can also buy cheese fondue packets that are already pre-mixed.

Cheese overload

Cheese overload

Customarily, if you lose your bread in the cheese, as a man, you must buy a round of drinks for the table. As a woman, you must kiss a man at the table.

It is tradition to enjoy schnapps and white wine during and after the meal, as it is thought to simulate the digestion. According to the University of Zurich, the total opposite happens. Instead it is encouraged to drink black tea – too bad!

The first time I tried cheese fondue was when my German friend kindly hosted one in his shared flat with his roommate. I had never eaten so much cheese in my life and my stomach promptly rebelled. But I love fondue!! It’s great fun with friends!

January 1, 2013 Swiss Foods , , ,


TimTam is an Australian chocolate snack invented in the 1960′s. They are finger-sized, composing of two thin chocolate biscuits sandwiching a vanilla cream filling, and then coated with a layer of chocolate. According to the TimTam website, Australians consume over 35 million packs of these annually! My brother is living in Brisbane at the moment so he brought some over for the holidays:

Chocolatey goodness

Chocolatey goodness

The TimTam Slam is the ritual of drinking your hot beverage through a TimTam ‘straw’.
First you take two small bites, one on each opposite end of the TimTam:

How to do a Tim Tam Slam

How to do a Tim Tam Slam

Then you suck up the drink through your TimTam (goes good with coffee):

Chocolate straw

Chocolate straw

Although Australian, they are sold in North America and in parts of Asia. There are multiple flavors such as white chocolate and caramel but according to my brother, the original is the best.

December 19, 2012 Australian Foods , ,

Matjesbrötchen (Herring Sandwich)

Pickled herring is something of an acquired taste, but has been eaten since Medieval times in Europe, as they could be stored for long periods. They are usually eaten with pickles or onions, cold. The texture is slimy and the flavor…well, what comes to mind is salty and vinegar-y! It’s also rather fatty and on the whole, not very glamorous.

mmm..pickled fish!

mmm..pickled fish!

The Matjes herring is one that has not yet spawned, which is appropriate for the name, since it means ‘virgin herring’ in Dutch. And although its origin is Dutch, it is popular in Germany, especially in the north. As for me, although they serve it now and then at my workplace cafeteria, I absolutely do not like it unless it’s served in a bun (i.e, brötchen). Once a year, the fish market from Hamburg travels to my town and on this occasion I took the picture above.

December 17, 2012 Dutch Foods ,


Hefezopf, or literally, ‘yeast braid’ is a type of sweet bread from the German-speaking countries. It is associated with such celebrations as New Years, baptisms, and Easter. Like its name implies, the bread loaf is braided and added with raisins, slivered almonds, and coarse sugar pieces.

To celebrate Advent, I made a Hefezopf loaf yesterday. I referenced several english recipes (because German recipes are always metric and I am more comfortable cooking with US measurements) and was quite scared because each recipe had vastly different proportions and ingredients. But in the end it worked out. I’ll give the following recipe:

To begin:
- 2x 8g packets of yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 Tsp of sugar
Mix them all together and wait 15 minutes or until the yeast foams.

- 2 eggs (room temperature)
- 1 stick of melted butter
- 200mL of milk (better if room temperature)
- 3 cups of flour
- a bit of lemon juice
- several pinches of salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
Mix them all together into the yeast mixture.
It will be quite liquid… which caused me to panic because some other recipes recommended only 1 egg….

But then the kneading started, and this process required adding a lot of flour continuously to the mixture.
Knead until the dough is no longer sticky and is smooth.
Cover with a towel and put in a warm place for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, knead the dough lightly again on a floured surface, adding in raisins.
Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Make each piece into a long, long cylindrical shape.
Then attach all pieces at one end and start braiding!

Ready to put into the oven

If you wish, mix an egg and apply it as wash on top (you definitely won’t use all of it). Then sprinkle coarse sugar and sliced almonds over the top.

Preheat oven to 180-200 Celcius, depending on your oven. I did 180 because my oven circulates the air inside.

The house starts to smell reallllly good

After 35-40 minutes, it’s ready!!!

Perfect with tea or coffee

Eat with a little butter on top of the slices!
And here’s a nice Instagramed picture….

Enough for sharing

December 2, 2012 German Foods ,

Red Velvet Cake

Let me introduce my favorite cake, the Red Velvet. Although famous already in the last century, it is ever growing more popular worldwide, known for it’s brilliant red color and it’s rich frosting. The redness is due to food coloring, and the cake contents are cocoa. However, it’s really sweet at all, just very rich. You can get this and its cupcake variation in nearly all trendy dessert houses in North America. Sadly it hasn’t made its way to mainstream Germany yet, but luckily there are countless recipes online.

Absolutely irresistible

Gilt Taste wrote an extremely informative article over the history of this cake. As for the recipe, I recommend Joy of Baking (the cupcakes pictured on this blog title were made with this recipe).

Why is it my favorite cake? I admit it, a lot to do with it is the hype and the name. And the color of red and white is beautiful, I find. So maybe it’s 50% the taste and 50% the appeal…

November 18, 2012 American Foods , ,

Haydntorte (Haydn Cake)

I think it’s always interesting to have culinary inspirations based on celebrities. Not only is it a great marketing ploy but it’s a chance to see what characteristics and pieces of history have been pulled out of the person and transformed into an edible form. When I was visiting a friend in Vienna, we went on a day trip to Eisenstadt, which is a city in Austria along the Hungarian border. The city there is famous for the Esterházy Palace, the home of the line of Hungarian princes that began from the Middle Ages that continue to present day.

Esterhazy Palace

The palace from the outside

Inside the palace

The family is notably famous for having employed the composer Franz Joseph Haydn from the 1760s until his death in 1802. I’m sure you know that Haydn is one of the superstars of the Classical period, equal to that of Mozart.

So Eisenstadt today has an ode to Haydn in the form of a cake, created by Konditori Arnberger. A cake with layers of cherry spread, marzipan, and chocolate. The reason for cherries is the account that Haydn as a child was rewarded with cherries when the choirmaster of St. Stephen’s in Vienna heard him sing.

Ode to Haydn

Ok, so what did I think of it? TOO SWEET!

November 10, 2012 Austrian Foods ,

Käsespätzle (Noodles with cheese)

This is my favorite German dish of all time! This is a variation of macaroni and cheese but it’s definitely not your normal Kraft dinner!

Cheese heaven!

Spätzle is a type of egg noodle common in southern Germany, and is commonly served as a side dish. Although they are called noodles, the length of them is more like macaroni, but with a doughier and thicker texture. It is normally served dry and the sauce of the main dish is eaten with it (for example, gravy). Käsespätzle is prepared in a pan with shredded cheese added to the noodles. Fried onion is commonly added in, and then served with a side salad. The cheese can be of various types – for example, Swiss (Emmentaler), Alpine, and Gorgonzola. It is a traditional dish and that is typically “home-made by Grandma”. Well, unfortunately I don’t have that privilege, but the restaurants don’t do too bad a job either!

November 7, 2012 German Foods ,