The Results Are In for Gastro Obscura's Black Sesame Sweet Soup Cook-Off!

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Last month, Atlas Obscura challenged readers to make their own version of black sesame sweet soup, a dessert soup that’s popular in Hong Kong. In its most basic form it comes out pitch-black, creamy, and nutty, and it's just one of the more than 800 wondrous foods featured on our food vertical, Gastro Obscura.

All of the adventurous home cooks who took us up on our challenge deserve a round of applause. Many of you found a way to personalize your soups by subtly varying the recipe, and one of you even dared to cook yours over a campfire. Most importantly, you wrote in to tell us about the entire experience, including helpful hints you learned along the way.

We've collected our favorite submissions below. Read on, and perhaps you'll be inspired to try making your own black sesame sweet soup.

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Sandra Donabed of Jupiter, Florida

Tell us about your experience! Did you discover any useful hints?

You can skip ahead if you use roasted black sesame tahini in place of the raw sesame seeds. And try with black rice too to keep it really black and not gray. Who eats gray food? That way you can roast with rice, let sit overnight together, blend together, and cook together.

How, if at all, did you change the recipe?

I stopped blending it before complete puree, so it has a bit more texture. And it was badly in need of a pinch of salt! Also, I garnished with some white sesame seeds.

Did you like the soup?

Once I added some salt it became quite good!


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Karen Wiggins-Dowler of Pacifica, California

Tell us about your experience! Did you discover any useful hints?

If you are straining the sesame seeds, use a cloth bag and not cheese cloth! Sesame liquid squirted everywhere.

How, if at all, did you change the recipe?

I used black rice and hulled millet, and after soaking it for an hour and rinsing it, I put the rice mixture in the freezer for an hour before blending it (I didn't want to wait overnight and the freezing helps to break down the outside cell structure) in a soy milk maker. I then strained the mixture with a wire mesh, producing a rice paste. I also added 1/2 cup dried lily bulb to the sesame seeds before I blended them.

Did you like the soup?

I liked it after adding more rock sugar and a pinch of salt!


Chantal-Lise Mirman of Brighton, Colorado

Tell us about your experience! Did you discover any useful hints?

With Halloween coming up, how could I resist this La Brea Tar Pits simulacrum? Sticky and sweet, this concoction is as likely to swallow you up as you are to slurp it down! I felt more like a modern day alchemist, creating new life, than a culinary expert as I measured, toasted, combined and simmered exotic ingredients for this relatively simple recipe. However, don’t be surprised if an eye of newt or bat wing happens to fall in…

How, if at all, did you change the recipe?

I seasoned my Primordial Black Sesame Seed Soup with: ground roasted ginger, ground star anise, ground grains of paradise, ground cayenne, lemon pepper seasoning, sriracha, a little white shoyu and a hunk of honeycomb. Crumbled crystalized ginger and a can of drained black beans (for texture). Would be great paired with warm sake! Also, like all soups, it’s better the next day, once the flavors have had a chance to set.

Did you like the soup?

Not your everyday, run-of-the-mill soup, but a welcome addition to my soup repertoire. Surprisingly delicious and spicy/sweet way to start an Asian-themed meal or end it on an equally surprising note, with a sprinkle of crushed gingered black sesame seed brittle (perhaps accompanied by a small scoop of green tea ice cream).


Grey Maier of Providence, Rhode Island

Tell us about your experience! Did you discover any useful hints?

I made this recipe over a campfire in middle-of-nowhere, upstate New York. There isn't much to be had up there. Food, water, and electricity all take some work to get, which made cooking this soup exponentially harder. Water came from a nearby stream, heat from the fire, and all sources of sugar came from the local wilderness (wild berries and syrup). I had no blender, so I had to hand-mash the sesame and rice after soaking. This was the biggest flaw, since the sesame seeds didn't really blend. Water and fuel limitations turned this soup into a porridge, and the challenges of campfire cooking made every step a hundred times more complicated and labor-intensive.

How, if at all, did you change the recipe?

Oh boy... How did I change the recipe? Let me count the ways. I toasted the sesame seeds over a fire, smoking them as much as toasting them (with surprisingly flavorful results). I couldn't blend anything, so I soaked the seeds and rice for over two days, and mashed them by hand. The rice mashed pretty well. The seeds sort of came apart, but they didn't become smooth or anything like that. I could have done a better job with this step. The soup boiled over the fire, thickening and turning into porridge because I didn't want to add more water and risk maxing out the fuel supply. It became very thick in the end. There was no sugar, so maple syrup substituted (about 3/4 cup). Once done, the porridge was served with more maple syrup poured over the top, as well as with homemade jam (blueberry, blackberry/raspberry), made with very local wild berries. The end result was better than I expected. The sesame seeds were smoky and crunchy, while the rice took on the maple flavor.

Did you like the soup?

Yeah it was pretty good. The smoke and maple flavors really added to it, and the fruity jam worked better than I thought it would. I got lucky with the extremely seedy raspberry jam (wild raspberries have many more seeds than supermarket berries), since it matched the poorly-ground sesame. Overall, a good (if exhausting) three-day experience that definitely made me thankful for modern kitchen appliances.


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Annie Wang of Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tell us about your experience! Did you discover any useful hints?

This actually inspired me to write a whole blog post. Using yellow rock sugar instead of granulated sugar is pretty important IMHO because that is what is traditionally used and the granulated sugar gives a drying/sour after taste.

How, if at all, did you change the recipe?

I altered it to how I prefer it because I like mine a little more on the gritty side.

1 c. black sesame seeds

2/3 c. long grain white rice

7 1/2 c. water

6 oz. yellow rock sugar

Did you like the soup?

No. A relative used to order this occasionally when we would go out to eat in Taiwan. I don't like the flavor of black sesame.


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Lucia Yee Lipitz of New York City

Tell us about your experience! Did you discover any useful hints?

Easy to make, but a cup of sugar is too sweet for my taste.

How, if at all, did you change the recipe?

Less sugar, of course. And less rice to enhance the sesame seed fragrance.

Did you like the soup?

I have always loved Black Sesame Sweet Soup since eating it as a child in Hong Kong. This delectable soup is my Proust's Madeleine; it brought back memory of an innocent time. I enjoyed this Gastro Obscura cook-off challenge. Thank you.