Stuff I Really Kind of Like About My Life in China: Glutinous Rice Balls

March 8, 2012

I totally know what you’re thinking.

“Glutinous rice balls? Seriously, Sally? Are you on crack?”

Umm, funny you should ask.

Let’s just say, that might be a possibility.

I don’t know how this happened, but I’m totally addicted to these things. Like if-they-are-even-in-the-house-I-need-to-eat-every-last-one-of-them addicted.

And, really, the only explanation I can come up with is that they have to be stuffed with some kind of illegal substance. Because, seriously, people, that’s the only way I could be this addicted to something with the words “glutinous” and “balls” in the name.

Somewhere on here is a list of ingredients... and somewhere in that list is the word "crack" in Chinese. I'm sure of it.

I didn’t think I would like them at all when I first spotted them in the freezer section of my grocery store.

First of all, they were wedged in between the ice cream and the cake. Which I thought was a real jerk move on their part. Like, “Oh, hey there, we’re totally just like ice cream and cake. Just more rice-y. And more glutinous-y. You should try us.”

Besides, I had my fair share of glutinous rice ball treats in Japan, and I can’t say I was an instant fan. It’s definitely an acquired taste. Like after four years of eating the stuff, I could kind of understand the big deal, but the first time I ate a mochi cake stuffed with red beans, I was like, “Seriously, Japan? You call this a dessert? I really don’t think so. And what is that on the inside? Beans?! Gah! Are you trying to kill me?! I’m going to need some whipped cream to get that taste out of my mouth like right now.”

Mochi cakes in red miso paste on a stick. Just like cake and ice cream... just more rice-y and more miso-y.

So, yeah, I wasn’t expecting to like glutinous rice balls… at least not right away or anything.

But, after a few weeks of staring curiously at them in the grocery store, I thought, “Hey, why not buy a packet or two? You know, give them a whirl? If anything, I can write about them on the blog. That is if I’m not too busy gagging. Or pouring whipped cream into my face trying to get that taste out of my mouth.”

I was still skeptical even after I’d got them home and popped a few into a pot of boiling water. Because, really, everyone knows that desserts should not be boiled. At the very least, they should be deep-fried. And then covered in whipped cream, crushed nuts and chocolate drizzle.

It's like they're practically a health food.

All my skepticism was tossed out the window, though, when I tasted the first one.

And now I know how people totally get addicted to crack.  They’re all like, “Me? Hardcore drugs? Umm, I don’t think I’m going to like it. Okay, maybe just a little. You know, for the blog.”

So, I hope you’re enjoying this post because, seriously, I’ve got the glutinous rice ball addiction bad. I’ll probably need to go to rehab or something.

The grocery store near my house stocks all kinds glutinous rice balls in different flavors like coconut and strawberry and ones that look like they might be full of pork. I’ve mostly been sticking to the black sesame ones since I’m a big fan of black sesame. Besides, I really don’t want to risk getting addicted to even more flavors as I can’t fit into my pants as it is.

My drug of choice. I hear the black sesame ones are the gateway glutinous rice ball.

I did go a bit crazy once, and I tried the peanut ones, which were also pretty tasty. Even if they were called this:

I’m sure the name in Chinese is something totally melodious and delicious-sounding, but, let’s be honest, these English names are really not doing them any favors.

In order to help China out a bit, I thought I’d come up with a few alternative English names for glutinous rice balls… you know, names that might roll off the tongue a bit better…. even if your tongue happens to be crammed full of glutinous rice balls like mine usually is.

Here are just a few of my suggestions:

  • Rice-o-yummi
  • Amazing Rice
  • Heaven Morsels
  • Crack-cakes
  • Forget-about-ever-being-able-to-fit-into-your-pants-again Balls
  • Brownies

(I realize that last one is already taken, but just go with it, China.)

Plus, what’s the deal with these models on the packaging? I mean, you can see their neck bones and stuff.

These women should not be endorsing dessert. They don’t look anything like the dessert-eating type. In fact, I bet they’re the kind of people who say ridiculous things like, “Wow, this cupcake is so huge. I couldn’t possibly finish it all by myself,” or “I’m just going to eat fruit for dessert.”

What they need is a cover model who looks like she’s been around the dessert case a few times, if you know what I mean.

Like, umm, this girl:

China's Next Top Glutinous Rice Ball Packaging Model, I'm sure of it.

Am I right or am I right?

Besides, I could really use another job. After all, I’m going to have to pay for my new glutinous rice ball habit somehow.

Your turn: what food did you try that you were surprised you actually liked?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On March 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm Valerie Hamer said:

    LOL, I once sent a packet of chocolate flavoured mochi to my family from Japan. This was quite a sacrifice as I love them, but you do that for family, right?

    Pity they put them in the compost after trying one (between them!) Sigh.

    • On March 10, 2012 at 4:50 am Sally said:

      Ahhh! I can’t believe they threw the chocolate mochi in the garbage. Sacrilege! I remember feeling sad when my friends and family would visit me in Japan and they wouldn’t instantly love the things that I loved to eat there (for example, my mom was less than impressed by grilled eel).

  2. On March 8, 2012 at 2:13 pm MaryAnne said:

    Oh god, I do like glutinous rice in its myriad forms- also huge fan of the sticks that get doused in dome sort of chili oil and tossed together to make a glutinous rice woodpile on a plate. It’s like pasta but much more dangerous.

    I was once given one of those special festival green glutinous balls at a staff meeting and was horrified to find not bean paste but shrimp fluff inside.

    Also, on the surprise front, I’d say it was prawns. I’ve always hated sea food but for some reason last summer in Sri Lanka I started ordering prawn curries every day- possibly because the beef and chicken were all bony and fatty and scary- and I was shocked to discover that not only was it okay but that I was addicted. They may use the same crack in their prawns as in the sesame balls.
    MaryAnne recently posted..Notes on Scuba Diving in Thailand (and Elsewhere) for the Non-Amphibious

    • On March 10, 2012 at 4:48 am Sally said:

      Ooo, I haven’t seen the glutinous rice woodpiles. I may have to try that… although, I’m not sure I could take all that chili oil! And, gah, that shrimp fluff experience sounds horrible!

  3. On March 8, 2012 at 2:18 pm Sid said:

    Longans. They’re this Malaysian fruit. Reminds me of litchis. And I JUST could not stop eating them. I was supposed to bring some back to my family. But some how they all mysteriously disappeared into my tummy.

    Also DO NOT TRY DURIAN. Disgusting fruit. Smells absolutely horrible.
    Sid recently posted..Cape Town International Ballet Competition

  4. On March 8, 2012 at 2:45 pm Jasika said:

    omg im crying!!! youre SOOOOOOOOOOOO funny!!! and you just added another reason to the (billion i already have) ‘why jes wants to go to china’ list!!

    • On March 10, 2012 at 4:47 am Sally said:

      Thanks, Jasika. Glad you enjoyed it. And, yes, I think a trip to China is definitely in order. (Although I hear you can buy these things in Asian supermarkets abroad, but it’s best to get them at the source. 🙂 )

  5. On March 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm Dyanne@TravelnLass said:

    The legendary (stinky) durian. Guess I got lucky (at a village festival in Bali, plucked fresh off the tree) as it tasted wonderful – like delicately sweetened cream cheese.

    But that’s not why I stopped by. What I reeeally wanted to say is:

    Thanks for yet another brilliantly droll bit of blather. You really have a gift my dear.

    Oh, and btw…

    “Brownies”. Yup, that’s the ticket, China.
    Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..Let’s Have a PARTY!

    • On March 10, 2012 at 4:46 am Sally said:

      Ahh, durian. The fruit people love or hate with a passion! Oddly, I can’t say I loved it or hated it. When I tried it I was just like, “Huh, that’s… different.” But I do, oddly, really like the smell of durian. It makes me feel nostalgic for Malaysia and reminds me of a really fun time in my life.
      And happy to entertain you with my droll blather. I aim to please! 🙂

  6. On March 8, 2012 at 3:17 pm suki said:

    Oh, I love glutinous rice balls! 🙂 They’re great savory or sweet. The savory ones are plain and usually eaten at the end of the lunar year.

    For the most part, I’ll try everything, so I don’t think anything really surprises me as something I like. I’m just open to the possibility that the entire world is made of delicious food, and I’m only surprised when something isn’t.

    PS – Love durian [it was an acquired taste], but the boyfriend hates it. No matter what I try [in all forms], he just doesn’t like it.
    suki recently posted..Wordless Wednesday – Meals in Costa Rica #2

    • On March 10, 2012 at 4:44 am Sally said:

      I love your philosophy on food! I should adopt that… although, it would probably mean me eating even more and I don’t think I could do that to my pants!

  7. On March 8, 2012 at 4:56 pm Patricia GW said:

    Hilarious! I’m going to try these when I reach China, and I expect your picture to be the packaging model 😉
    Patricia GW recently posted..Talking to People on Purpose (and My Ultimate Pack List)

  8. On March 8, 2012 at 7:56 pm Ross said:

    Mister Donut donuts. I don’t like donuts much at all, hadn’t eaten one in about 8 years. Then at a Mister Donut shop in Taiwan I gave into peer pressure and tried one. I eat them almost non stop in Taiwan and Japan. I also tried a wet rice cracker on a stick in Japan (that’s how a lady translated it for me). I thought it was some kind of meat at first. I really like them even if they are called “Wet Rice Crackers.”
    Ross recently posted..Authentic Thai Food

    • On March 10, 2012 at 4:41 am Sally said:

      Wet Rice Cracker? Huh? I never heard of that. I think I’m going to have to try that the next time I’m in Japan. If only so I can find out what the heck it is!
      And, yes, Mr. Donut’s donuts are pretty darn awesome. I love the old-fashioned ones.

  9. On March 8, 2012 at 10:49 pm Sabrina said:

    Hmmmm… never had them… and the name doesn’t really make them sound all that good. You make them sound delicious though, so I think I really need to try them next time I visit China 🙂 I did like sesame ice cream after all, so why not sesame rice balls. By the way, my personal food crack is a bacon-brie queso that is served with freshly baked & grilled rosemary bread. And food crack is exactly like I’ve been describing it to friends 🙂
    Sabrina recently posted..What Do People Eat in China? Chinese Hot Pot

  10. On March 8, 2012 at 11:39 pm Selly said:

    湯圓 [tāngyuán] – to die for if you ask me. There are some in my freezer but I will have enough resistance not to make them at midnight just because reading about them on your blog made me really want them. Sally you are a very bad influence on me – justify yourself this ones!

    I tried gluttonous rice balls for the first time at a dinner with my Chinese teacher, they were to die for, in a heavenly sweet but not too sweet black sesame sauce. I thought I would like them but it was love at first sight.

    Btw, I don’t boil them in water, I melt one block of brown cane sugar in the water and then add to thin slices of ginger. You cool this for a wee bit, then dump the rice balls inside and wait for them to rise once done. The whole mix makes for a sweet soup to go with the glutinous rice balls and I swear you won’t want to stop eating them!

    • On March 10, 2012 at 4:40 am Sally said:

      Gah!! Are you trying to make me even more addicted?? That sauce sounds AMAZING.

      • On March 10, 2012 at 9:10 am Selly said:

        Me? Try to make you addicted? Oh I’d never dream about it 😉 I’ll look up how much sugar you need so it’s nice and sweet but not tooth-achingly sweet, we’re talking sugar here after all. Damn, I really want rice balls now, sadly I’m about four and a half hours away from my freezer, someone kidnapped me and dragged me halfway across the country!

  11. On March 9, 2012 at 12:04 am jan said:

    Oh Dear – I think Selly’s idea might just tip you over the edge. There must be a world of glutinous ball bingers out there! I am going to check out local chinese grocery stores to see if they stock them!
    jan recently posted..THE GOOD OLD DAYS – NO?

  12. On March 9, 2012 at 3:06 am Priya said:

    This is amaze-bals! you should totally be a model– the face of china! yay!
    Priya recently posted..Thoughts On The Dating Industry/ Hosting a Wingwomen Mixer

  13. On March 9, 2012 at 7:14 am James in Phnom Penh said:

    My thing is: Where are all the fat Asians? I know they’re out there, and I see some of them walking down the street, but if they’re all eating glutinous rice and other carbs at will, where’s the fat? How come everyone I saw in China was relatively skinny and super tall (and wore hideous clothes)?

    BTW, my favorite dessert ever: A fresh strawberry covered in red bean paste wrapped inside a mochi shell. How DO they get the strawberry in there? It’s like a ship in a bottle, people. I’m serious!
    James in Phnom Penh recently posted..Down the Home Stretch: A Day at the Bangkok Races

    • On March 10, 2012 at 4:37 am Sally said:

      Ha ha. I’ve seen plenty of fat people in Asia, but, by all rights, they really should be fatter. I mean, I gained 10 pounds since moving to China. I can’t imagine growing up here. I’d be HUGE!

  14. On March 9, 2012 at 12:58 pm Katherina said:

    Spain is all about surprising food… I don’t know of any other country that uses the pig and cow so efficiently. of course this leads to really strange tapas (at least for foreigners!)… Like morcilla (made of blood and rice). My biggest surprise so far was probably beef tartar – so many times in France and I had never dared to go for it.. until I moved to Switzerland. and you know wjat? It’s delicious!!!
    Katherina recently posted..Picture This: The Guardian

    • On March 10, 2012 at 4:36 am Sally said:

      I tried beef tartar once and I remember being both repulsed and unable to stop myself from stuffing it in my mouth. It’s so good… even if it smells and looks like it shouldn’t be.

  15. On March 10, 2012 at 1:02 am DSW said:

    I’ve never actually purchased these delicious balls, but every time I get taken to a restaurant by my school they appear at the end of the meal. And they are fantastic. I’ve never tried peanut flavour before, but that just sounds mind-blowing.
    DSW recently posted..China’s Fake Buses

    • On March 10, 2012 at 4:34 am Sally said:

      Funny. I’ve never actually had them at a restaurant. I’m a bit scared to try. They’re already sooo good out of the freezer case, I can’t even imagine if I had fresh ones made by a professional rice ball maker. I’d probably die… or never leave the restaurant and just keep eating them forever.

  16. On March 10, 2012 at 5:42 am Matt said:

    Glutinous Rice Balls are fantastic. I wasn’t raised in a fish eating family. It took me a very long time to try salmon, which I realize is ridiculous, but I was well into my 20’s before I had it for the first time. It is now one of my favorite meals, something I order on a regular basis.
    Matt recently posted..Generosity

    • On March 10, 2012 at 6:06 am Sally said:

      I think this is a pretty common thing. So many of my adult friends are very fish-adverse — especially those who grew up in the Midwest or other parts of the world where there isn’t a lot of salt or freshwater. I think the next time my fish-phobic friends whine at me about not wanting to eat fish, I will tell them your salmon story. 🙂

      • On March 10, 2012 at 6:17 am Matt said:

        While from the midwest I am not sure if growing up far from water is an excuse I can use. I was 40 minutes from Lake Michigan growing up in Michigan and going to school in Wisconsin.

        Have you tried the fried dough balls with a frosting like dipping sauce that are available at numerous restaurants here in China? They are just as good (perhaps better) than the sticky rice balls.

  17. On March 11, 2012 at 4:47 am Leah Travels said:

    I love menudo. No, not the 80s Puerto Rican boy band featuring Ricky Martin. Menudo, is the Mexican stew-like dish made with beef stomach. It helped that I didn’t know I was eating beef stomach at the time. Oh well. It tastes good and is really good for hangovers.
    Leah Travels recently posted..Leah’s Leaping over the Pond

  18. On March 12, 2012 at 2:52 am Amer said:

    For me its chicken rice from the Chicken Rice franchise in Malaysia (can I be that specific?). I love chicken rice but didn’t expect the franchise one to be that good!
    Amer recently posted..Kuala Lumpur’s skyline from 1960′s – the age of our fathers and grandfathers

  19. On March 12, 2012 at 10:16 am Zinedine said:

    These rise balls remind me of kung fu panda 😛

  20. On March 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm Ali said:

    That does NOT look good! But I admire you for trying them for the rest of us. And “glue balls”? Who proofreads their English?
    Ali recently posted..My 7 Super Shots From 7 Continents

  21. On March 13, 2012 at 6:03 am Tawny- Captain and Clark said:

    I tried my first glutinous rice ball in Korea and it was glorious! Oh, that might be a good name “Glorious Glutinous Galls”. It should be “balls”, but I like alliterations.

    Have you tried mochi ice cream yet? I think it might be something that you’d enjoy. It might even be the crystal meth of desserts. Beware.

    • On March 14, 2012 at 12:42 am Sally said:

      Maybe “Glorious Glutinous Globes”?
      Oh, yes, and I love me some mochi ice cream. You can sometimes find that in China and I have to eat it when I see it. HAVE to.

  22. On March 13, 2012 at 9:40 am Jack said:

    “Glutinous rice balls”?
    That sounds almost pornographic! 😀

    I had those when I was a kid, and I really didn’t think much of it. Maybe its just me, I was spoiled by McDonald. Sigh.

    • On March 14, 2012 at 12:40 am Sally said:

      Ha ha. I guess they’re not everyone’s taste. I wasn’t allowed to eat much McDonalds growing up, so I guess my palate wasn’t spoiled. 🙂

  23. On March 15, 2012 at 4:38 am Serena said:

    Wow you’re getting so popular it’s getting harder to scan the comments to see if what I want to say has already been said. So sorry if I’m repeating information.

    As for the girls on that packet
    1) Stick skinny is beautiful in a lot of cultures (including the US you know!) – the closer to a skeleton the girl looks, the more attractive, or so they say.
    2) It says something about taking home those glutinous rice balls on the package, so I’m guessing they’re trying to be sly and make it feel like you’re taking those GIRLS home. Gotta hook the male consumers somehow.

    As for glutinous things:
    OMG I love me some mochi. I’m sorry you didn’t like it in Japan. Actually mochi, and dango were my downfalls when I studied abroad in Japan, causing me to gain about 10 pounds. My favorite of all time is midarashi dango. And a mochi flavor/type that that might be friendlier on the western palate would be strawbery mochi (ichigo daifuku) because it is a whole strawberry in the center, surrounded by a layer of whip cream, surrounded by a somewhat thin film of mochi as the final surface. Did you ever have one when you were in Japan? I have to steer clear of the Japanese sweets areas whenever I go to the grocery store or combinis or else I’d be gaining dress (pant?) sizes too…I completely understand what you mean about glutinousness being like crack. Enjoy. In moderation. If you can.

    • On March 15, 2012 at 12:55 pm Sally said:

      Oh, trust me, I love me some mochi… NOW. But it took a while for it to grow on me. My first couple times, I was not impressed. But, after a few years of the stuff, I totally love it. When I was back in Japan this winter, I ate way too much of the stuff.

  24. On March 15, 2012 at 10:03 am choi kum fook said:

    In my childhood day, you only could eat glutinous rice ball in Winter Festival Day, that is occurred on the date of 21th or22th or 23th of December every year. The most it falls on 22th.The Chinese say that when you eat it in such season, you will become one year elder. Now you can find it and eat everywhere in Malaysia.I think the rice ball in China, may be more delicious, colorful and pattern that in Malaysia.I like to eat them very much. What is about you? Miss Sally!

  25. On March 15, 2012 at 3:41 pm Kate said:

    Even after reading your ode to glutinous rice balls, I still can not be convinced that those are good! OMG & peanut rice glue balls – seriously that was the funniest article about food that I have ever read.
    Kate recently posted..What is your very first memory of wanting to travel?

  26. On March 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm ehalvey said:

    2 things that I see as crack while others may…hesitate:

    Black pudding: pork sausage with blood. Seeing as I’m not a vampire or a big pork fan (aside from the bacon family), I was pretty sure I’d hate it. Nope, I MUST have it when in Ireland.

    Sun Supper: Irish-style Chinese food, which already sounds questionable, the involves rice, sauteed onions, french fries, and curry sauce. Crack in a styrofoam box. You can get it with peas (the most over-used, overrated, unnecessary vegetable ever) or with gravy instead of curry sauce. I’ll stick with curry.
    ehalvey recently posted..Photo Tour through the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

    • On March 18, 2012 at 2:19 am Sally said:

      I’ve had the first (NOT a fan), but not the second. And I can’t say I’m tempted to try it… how about if I just take your word for it?

  27. On March 20, 2012 at 12:33 pm swathi said:

    For me it is always Hyderabad biryani..
    By thought of it, I am getting hungrier..
    I almost read your entire blog. Even i dream about you in that suuuuuper* pink outfit 😉
    swathi recently posted..A silent bark

    • On March 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm Sally said:

      Mwahahaha. My evil plan has worked! I figured if I posted that photo of myself in the pink cop outfit enough times, I’d end up in your subconscious.


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