Taro sago dessert soup – a good gateway dessert for littles

For our Lunar New Year lunch on Saturday, I originally wanted to go *all* out and do two desserts: one would be the simple taro sago dessert soup (芋香椰汁西米露/Yù xiāng yē zhī xī mǐ lù), which would be easy to make; the second would be the more challenging tang yuan, or black sesame glutinous rice balls in brown sugar-ginger soup. After having several of my dough balls get completely crumply and destroyed a few nights ago (I hadn’t made this in ages, so I was out of practice with how to properly roll the glutinous rice flour dough), I decided to forgo the tang yuan finicky mess and go with the taro sago dessert soup, which even a young child could make.

Taro sago dessert soup was one of my favorite Chinese desserts growing up. When we used to have big family meals with my cousins, aunt, uncle, and grandma, the banquet-style table would always be filled with endless and sumptuous seafood, meat, and vegetable dishes. Looking back, I realize that I took it all for granted, as we never have meals with this much variety now at all. At the end of the huge meal, there was usually a complimentary dessert soup, usually in the form of red bean. While I did enjoy sweet red bean soup growing up, it was not my favorite. I was always pleasantly surprised when the massive bowl of dessert soup would come out, and the waiter would ladle out steaming hot bowls of taro sago soup. It was always this pale purple color with small chunks of taro and tiny translucent tapioca balls bobbing up and down. The soup had a hint of coconut milk flavor and just enough sweetness to let you know this was certainly dessert. I never realized then how easy it was to make this soup at home with just a handful of ingredients.

So I made it for Saturday, and it was very well received; several guests had a second helping. Yet we still have quite a bit left over since the recipe made a very, very large batch. So while eating it tonight, I offered Kaia some. She initially rejected it, but gradually grew envious the more she saw me spoon it into my mouth. So she came closer and asked to “try some.” I gave her a small spoonful; she ate some and made a face, ran away, then tentatively came back to me to ask for “more?” She proceeded to have about a quarter of my small bowl of taro sago soup and clearly loved it, constantly repeating “taro yummy, taro yummy.”

I thought more about (East) Asian desserts, and I also thought about Chris (and many people who think like him) and criticize them, saying that East Asian countries like China and Japan don’t know how to do dessert well, and “that’s why they put shit like red bean” in their desserts. But I actually think this thought is flawed. East Asians thought about putting legumes, seeds, and roots like red bean, black sesame, and taro in desserts; from a health perspective, this should be embraced, because you’re not only having a sweet and indulgent treat, but combining it with something that will nourish your body. Who is to say that something like sesame or beans should be used in only savory applications? Why put arbitrary limits on different types of raw ingredients? With these raw ingredients, East Asians pair them with just enough sweetness so that your teeth don’t ache after, but your belly still gets a sweet hit. And that’s actually a great way to introduce sweets to young children like Kaia, especially as we want to limit their sugar intake but still not feel like they’re being left out of sweet treats. Kaia can be indulged with a dessert with a small amount of sugar, yet still have something healthful that her parents can feel good about. And that all sounds good to me.

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