Information: sweet dishes

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WESTERNERS in Chinese restaurants, after being delighted with the variety of "main" courses, often find the desserts limited and disappointing.

There's a good reason for this: it's not the Chinese custom to serve any dessert with a meal. Sweet dishes are for snacks or for banquets.

The snacks, served at all hours, usually with cups of tea, include fruits and nuts, cakes and cookies, gelatinous dishes and hot fruit or nut liquids--ranging from thin and delicate to thick and pudding-like--which are known as teas or soups.

The elaborate desserts are reserved for banquets. These include Eight Precious Rice Pudding, Peking Dust and Almond Float. Various fruit and nut teas or soups are often also served. These are sipped from large teacups between courses or at the very end of the banquet.

Cakes prepared at home, such as sponge cake and red date cake, are not baked but steamed. Baked pastries, and particularly the special ones eaten during holidays and festival times, are usually bought at Chinese bakeries.

These include the globular rice-flour cakes, that are stuffed with a sweet bean filling, rolled in sesame seeds, and eaten during the Chinese New Year. There are also small baked cakes (filled with lotus jam--a thick mixture of lotus seeds boiled with sugar--sweet bean fillings, sesame seeds and preserved melon), which are eaten during the moon festival in mid-August.

The fortune cookie, unknown in China, seems to be Western-inspired, although its origins are obscure. Fortune cookies are not baked, but dropped by the spoonful onto a hot grill to form thin, round wafers. While still warm and pliable, each wafer is topped with a strip of paper that has a "fortune" printed on it. The wafer is then folded in half and in half again to enclose its "fortune." When cooled, the cookie hardens and holds its convoluted shape.

From <The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook>, ISBN 0-517-65870-4. Downloaded from Glen's MM Recipe Archive, .

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