“Cold Cake” on a Xi’an Street Corner


Our final stop on “The Lost Plate” food tour in Xi’an was literally a sweet, fragrant ending to a lovely morning spent eating and touring markets. Rice cakes with fresh honey and a rose petal syrup. PHENOMENAL.


Located on a street corner, this wonderful vendor had a cart with real ceramic bowls to hold a ransom’s worth of spectacular natural honey, a deep maroon rose petal syrup and some red bean paste. She had her rice cakes, sesame seeds and assorted utensils to create her street food masterpiece of a dessert. You could tell by the way the cart was so meticulously arranged, the stainless surface, the wooden chopping board, the order and cleanliness of it, that this wasn’t ordinary street fare, or was it??


First, the vendor cuts the cold or cool rice cakes with a string. Ingenious tip, I thought. The rice doesn’t stick to the string like it would to a knife and you get clean even cuts. She puts several of these slices into a styrofoam container, then added several squares of rice cakes that have red bean paste sandwiched in between and rolled in toasted white sesame seeds (in the background of photo above).


She then gracefully ladles on some organic raw honey (I think we got extra because we were on a tour)…


…then several spoonfuls of rose petal syrup that was redolent with rose fragrance and had a deep burgundy brown color.


Throw in a few toothpicks and three of us shared this enormous serving to cap off the morning tour. It was SUPERB. I never associated rose syrup or jelly with anything memorable to date (I lack experience in this taste profile) but this use was just stunning.


15 Responses

  1. Rose petal syrup , another acquired taste that is not so acceptable to my gustatory sense not used to aromatic or floral flavors for ingestion. I always associate the scent of roses with the fragrance of cologne or body splash or after shave lotion which in combination with some body oils result in bad chemistry, a not so pleasant aroma that will knock me out of my senses. Perhaps it is this association that makes me avoid rose syrup at all cost.

    If I was born in Persia or India or the Middle East, I might have a different appreciation for it. But next time I visit Xian, I am willing to give it a try.

  2. ConnieC, I am with you, I was NOT a big fan nor had I tried too many rose flavored delicacies, with the exception of turkish delight and a few other desserts, but this thick syrup paired with the bean paste, the gorgeous honey and the sesame seeds was definitely a match to be reckoned with. It was delicious.

  3. Rose syrup/cordial, albeit artificial, is a popular drink among the masses in Malaysia. Add milk to it and it becomes another popular drink called “bandung”. Rose essence is also great in agar-agar or jellies.

    If you’re making your own rose petal jam, they go great with cream in a cake or on scones. https://www.feastingathome.com/rose-petal-jam/

  4. Top pic looks like palitaw smothered in stewed prunes to me, a breakfast treat I would find definitely appealing if not moving.

    Many primary scents that are mainstays of perfumery acceptably find their way into food and drinks, bergamot for example in Earl Gray tea. I’d draw the line though on lavender. No lavender sherbet or lavender panna cotta for me.

  5. In Madrid, since 1915, is La Violeta which specializes in violetas, violet candies and natural violet flowers in crystallized form. The candies were not “flowerish” at all. In Turkey we had pastries with essence of rose blossom or rose syrup. On High Line Park in NYC, La Newyorkina offers hibiscus flavored ice pops that you can sprinkle with chili powder/lime salt. I make char siu with chinese rose wine and bake madeleine with lavander sugar occasionally. All very interesting to taste but I agree with most, they’re an acquired taste.

  6. I love anything rose-y. I don’t know why but I loved it since I first tasted a rose sharbat (sp?) when I was 5 or 6 years old. When I had this dessert I think I had it twice a day for a week or more until I was all rosed out. LOL there are variants where the rice cake is stuffed with peanut butter, rolled in peanuts or walnuts and covered with other syrups like hongzao or red date, citron, and ginger. But always always with honey

  7. Still on flowery flavourings, in my quest for a less-pricy proxy for fiori di Sicilia, I once thought that I held in my hand the coveted password, orange blossom water. Even more widely used in Mediterranean cooking than rose water, I knew it in Spanish as agua de azahar. It turned out to be a smell I could not abide, perhaps even as strongly revolting to me as kewra, the Indian food flavouring distilled from screw pine flowers which I wrongly assumed would give off a pleasant pandan perfume.

  8. I meant essence of orange blossom or rose syrup . Footloose, I make ricotta pistachio ice cream with a bit of orange blossom and served it with Kouign Amann. Beautiful pairing! I think the key is to add these flower flavoring minimally… just enough to add je ne sais quoi but not enough to overpower the dish.

  9. @Nina, yes, just a slight trace, a soupçon, if you like…

    In William Boyd’s Blue Afternoon, a fantastic mystery novel with its backdrop Manila still under military rule by the newly arrived Americans, candied violets from this venerable Madrid shop was used as the key clue for the denouement. There must have been an even older supplier of this rare confection since the thread of this fictional account dates back to 1910.

  10. Footloose, your ability to connect food, of any kind to literature and history is astounding… I, for one, like candied violets, but probably only because they really are like colored, flavored sugar cubes… :)

  11. At the restaurant I used to work at we used thread or dental floss (non flavored) to slice through soft cheese and pate :) or you could do the standard hot knife technique but this still required you wiping the the knife clean after each slice

  12. OMG, Footloose!
    I also read Blue Afternoon when it first came out over 20 years ago, truly a wonderful novel.

  13. can ANYONE tell me where I can buy (I live in FL) glazed Pili Nuts (not just the plain raw) – are there any stores that carry that I can either order on line or paypal for a few bags please?
    They seem pretty impossible here to find. thank you – any information greatly appreciated.

  14. Cold Cake is great recipe . How i can cooking this Cold Cake .
    Please tell me more.



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