Bao Bing: A Sweet Treat That's Survived for Centuries


Bao bing is a sweet, cool dessert that originated in China as early as the 7th century and is still popular worldwide. Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Bao bing (pronounced bow-bing) is a dessert so good, people have been making — and eating — it for over 1,000 years. Picture, if you will, a snowy mound of shaved ice topped with sweetened condensed milk and red beans. Yep, red beans.

Of course, this is just one version of the cool dessert that originated in China and migrated to southeast Asia and from there to America. It can also be made with bright compotes of mango, lychee, strawberries and coconut. Bao bing toppings are as varied as the regional palate: traditional sweet red beans, chilled peanut or sesame soup, mochi — balls of sweet rice dough — and modern accoutrement such as chocolate syrup or sprinkles. It is most often served in a bowl and is usually large enough to be shared.

There is record of Chinese citizens nibbling on the cool confection as early as the seventh century, although it may very well have been enjoyed even earlier than that. And, in 1972, then-President Richard Nixon famously ate bao bing during state dinners in Beijing.

The earliest versions of bao bing most likely were topped with simple, fresh fare such as sweet red beans, rustic custard or chopped fruit. But as tastes and trends changed, and as bao bing began to travel the world, sweetened condensed milk was added.

Today, bao bing purveyors are flourishing in most major American cities from New York to Los Angeles to Dallas, and many smaller cities in between. So, expand your culinary horizons and give it a try.


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