A Wee Taiwanese Tea Party

Sunday was just the best day.

You remember, perhaps, that I wrote recently about my travails preparing the soft food diet for my daughter’s fractured jaw. In the comments of that post, my friend, Jim, who writes the fascinating “Road To Parnassus” blog and resides in Taiwan, suggested I give “bai mu-er” a shot.  As it happened, my husband was in Taiwan that very day – what are the odds, I ask you? – and could get his hands on the ingredients which he dutifully lugged home. Culinary kismet at work. I would definitely be giving this exotic dessert soup a try soon.

Sooner than I thought, it turns out. Saturday we heard from friends from Washington state who were in Virginia for a family wedding and wondered if we’d be around on Sunday for a visit. Would we? Oh, I don’t pass up a chance to see my friend, Kathy, easily.  A bit of schedule reshuffling and we were on for tea in the early afternoon.1414367655665

Last time I saw Kathy we had abandoned the merry band of wayfarers with whom we’d hiked the Scottish Highlands and hit Edinburgh for some serious book shopping. Oh my, oh my. Those book stores are post-worthy in and of themselves. Dash it to bits, I wish I had been writing my blog then.

Putting together a spot of tea was a snap. Beloved husband had come home with tins of delicious oolong tea and special tea cookies from Hong Kong. All I had to do was whip up the bai mu-er the night before and we were all set.

So what the heck is bai mu-er? It’s a fungus. A lovely delicate fungus that when combined with water, sugar, and dried or fresh fruits yields a delicious, sweet dessert soup. I learned very early in my Asian travels not to concern myself with what is in a specific dish (within reason, of course.) One of my favorite Chinese desserts is a black jelly. Yes, I agree, a bit of rebranding is in order to appeal to most Western palates.

Here I have the bai mu-er soaking:


Here it is simmering away with Chinese red dates and Chinese wolfberries:




And now I let it chill overnight in the fridge in preparation for tea on Sunday afternoon. Would our friends be willing to give it a try? Because, you know….fungus.

Well, I really do have the coolest friends, I have to say. Because, of course, they gave it a try with a terrific sense of adventure. You know there is such difference between “What’s that?” and “Ooooh, what have we here?”

So we sat in the garden and drank tea, sipped bai mu-er, nibbled cookies, and caught up on life. What could be better? Well, maybe if Jim could have joined us, but it is a tad out-of-the-way for him, I suppose.


After the first slightly hesitant taste, the bai mu-er was gobbled up.


What a great sport!




I am wearing a top from a shop in Edinburgh. The colors represent the heather and lochs of Scotland. A favorite “souvenir”, however, is standing right next to me.

How about you? What’s the most exotic thing you’ve ever eaten? Have you ever been served something as a guest that you really, really didn’t want to try?

Thanks for reading,









About Silver in the Barn

Life in a 1915 farmhouse in Central Virginia. And the odd thought or two.
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64 Responses to A Wee Taiwanese Tea Party

  1. Pat S. says:

    Oh, good grief! You are so perfect! How in the world do pull this off?!


  2. That looks fascinating….I’d come across the red dates before…but not the fungus nor the wolfberries. I’ll be off to the Chinese shops in San Jose to see what I can find.

    I’ve had grass jelly – is that the same as black jelly?


    • Yes, Helen, the grass jelly and black jelly are the same….sometimes. Sometimes the black jelly is made from tortoise shells. All things I try not to focus on. I like it cubed with the rich milk poured over. So good with that intangible herbal quality.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think that i might be glad that what I had was called grass jelly…had it been black jelly no doubt my curiosity would have led me to enquire into its composition…and I wouldn’t have liked the answer…

        I was lucky enough to have shared a flat with Chinese students when at university and they provided the rest of us with a few culinary eye openers….and kindly took us to shops and explained and translated!


      • Exactly, Helen. Sometimes ignorance is culinary bliss. How wonderful to have translators in the Chinese groceries…just to understand what to do with what would be terrific.


  3. Jodi says:

    How interesting to learn of this fungus and the process to prepare. Great to see you visit with your friend and your beautiful smiles!


  4. I generally like all food but vegemite I avoid. I acn eat it, but only if I keep my eyes closed and think of Queen Victoria or cricket. Your food picures look great and I would definitely partake if seated at your table.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. bkpyett says:

    What a fascinating post Barbara! The two girls in the last photo really beautiful!! As far as trying different things… I guess the things I avoid are the internal organs, offal!


    • I’m with you on that, Barbara, although I really do like liver. Nobody in my house will touch it though. I remember my old Italian neighbor serving me what I thought was beef and she kept saying “Hot! Hot!” Of course, what she was really saying was “Heart! Heart!” Actually it was delicious!


  6. John says:

    Great post – exotic food aye? Probably seafood which is why my wife and I dislike it. The usual, please… 😉


  7. Oh, I would eat that soup in a heartbeat! I love all the weird stuff. We ate fried crickets from the street stalls in Cambodia. I wanted to buy the spiders too but no one else would join me. Are wolfberries like goji berries? They look similar. Hm. Think I might need to wander into the local Asian supermarket soonish…


    • I just googled and wolfberries are goji berries, you smart thing. I bet your Asian markets are out of this world! Our Mexican friend eats crickets too! I’m impressed with your sense of culinary adventure.


      • Oh! And frogs! On skewers and cooked over a flame grill on the side of the road. Cambodia was FUN! 😀
        I could have eaten guinea pig in Peru but they only offer it for tourists really. With my natural aversion to be seen as a tourist, I declined. Did eat llama, though.
        You may be interested to know that kangaroo is readily available here. You can buy it packaged nicely in the meat section at the local supermarket.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Because llama eating will not peg you as a tourist, right? I am surprised to hear about kangaroo; have you tried it and what did you think?


      • In this case, actually no, I don’t think so. They do eat llama. They’re just large sheep really. And the standard of restaurant we were in (it was our end of trip celebration), it was really no different to finding kangaroo on the menu in many of our better restaurants. They don’t put it there for the tourists. It’s actually a popular meat to use (and eat!).
        Kangaroo is offered here as much as you would find beef or pork on a menu. It’s a very lean meat. It has a stronger flavour than beef but not too strong. It’s not ‘gamey’.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Sheryl says:

    What a fun food adventure! I’d definitely be willing to try it.


  9. cindy knoke says:

    Snake soup in Yucatan when I was a kid around 1972. I felt sick at the thought of it for many weeks after. I like your tea much better.


  10. nrhatch says:

    I might give it a quick slurp . . . and then ask you to pass the scones! 😛 I’ve tried alligator, octopus, snails ~ but I wouldn’t repeat the experience.

    Love the shot of the Book Stores and of the two of you in your garden. So glad that Sunday was the best!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. My husband, Dave, and I do eat a lot of ethnic food. The few things I’ve balked at and refused to try was ‘black pudding’ in London, alligator and frog legs. I’d much rather have joined the book shopping with you and your friend. The tea sounds wonderful and the dish you prepared sounds exotic. I might be tempted. 😉


  12. dorannrule says:

    Oh, how beautiful you are Barbara – and your friend Kathy too. And what a grand day you must have had with that reunion and all the special foods. I once tried “sweetbreads” but was not impressed enough to try again. 🙂 Funny that we are both thinking of cooking challenges. I just received Thomas Jefferson’s Cook Book as a gift from my brother. Some of the recipes are fodder for a new blog post.


  13. Eliza Waters says:

    The only thing I’ve been offered that I did not want to eat is mutton. Tougher than lamb and a lot more malodorous, at least to my nose. Not a fan of lamb either. 😉


  14. KerryCan says:

    Well, you’ll be disappointed in me–I may be the world’s pickiest eater and don’t even want to eat mushrooms, let alone other fungus. It was still fun to read your account, though! And I like your Scottish sweater very much!


  15. M-R says:

    I forgive you for telling us in detail about something that looks absolutely YUMMY (and what the devil’s wrong with fungus ?!) but we can never make because we will never have the ingredients, Barbara … and I do this only because that’s such a WONDERFUL photo of the pair of you. 😀


    • I completely forgot about “the smallening”, M-R, do forgive. If you locate the fungus in your local Asian grocer, you don’t need the other stuff. You can add banana or pineapple, for instance. Looking forward to Saturday’s report!

      Liked by 1 person

      • M-R says:

        And so you should: no-one is meant to have it in his/her head ! Maybe I’ll go to Paddy’s on Saturday morning – post post – and go on a bit of a hunt … 🙂


  16. Bai mu-er looks delightful! My husband once brought a cheese back from Europe that was so malodorous I could not try it. Neither did he. I made tripe for him — once.


  17. ritaroberts says:

    Hi Barbara, Well ! I have not heard of many of these foods but do like all varieties of soups, so maybe I would try your soup which looks appetizing on the photo. Black pudding is delicious even with those blobs of fat in them, lovely fried with some liver .Most meats I enjoy and as you know most English are partial to Beef. I tried frogs legs once , not bad as they taste a bit like chicken. I hate snails which the Greeks love and I like mushrooms but I am not sure if they are class them a sort of fungus.


    • Rita, the difference between this white fungus and mushrooms is that the fungus carries no taste whatsoever really. It adds a textural quality to the sweet fruity soup. I always thought of snails as a French specialty not realizing the Greeks love them. Anything is good with enough garlic and olive oil?


  18. Sue Mayo says:

    I’m up for most anything in the food department except lamb. Just can’t eat it no matter how much you dress it up.


  19. kristieinbc says:

    That was amazing timing with you husband being in Taiwan so he could get the mushrooms for you. They might also be available at a larger Chinese grocery store if you have one nearby. You asked if we had ever been served something we really didn’t want to try, and for me I would have to say more than once. The most memorable time was when my husband and I were in England, many years ago now, and a relative of his served liver. Liver makes me quiver. And this was liver like I had never seen it prepared – thick and still rare in the middle. I waited until the hostess left the room and slid that slab onto my husband’s plate so fats he didn’t know what had happened to him. 🙂


    • “Liver make me quiver.” Good one! It has such an intense flavor and the texture is such that I think a lot of people just can’t get past it. You were very kind to be an organ donor to your husband….after all it was his family that served it to you.


  20. Parnassus says:

    Hello Barbara, Thank you so much for your kind thoughts. I am sorry that I could not make it over there for your tea party, to meet your friends and try out your version of bai mu er, which looks delicious. Somehow, it comes as no surprise to find that your friends are as adventurous as you are–certainly the best way to discover a lot of the most fun things in life. (Actually, I wish I could have met you and Kathy even earlier, on your trip to those Scottish bookshops. Books must be twice as interesting when they come from such great-looking old buildings and shops.)

    Concerning strange new foods, my favorite situation is when the initial trepidation is overcome, and the new food becomes a staple in your diet, or you alter the recipe to create your own unique version. On your next visit to Taiwan, we’ll see if we can’t introduce you to some more foods that you’ll later wonder how you ever lived without!


    • Hi Jim, the bookshops. It was torture for us to pull ourselves away from them knowing that we wouldn’t be returning any time soon and that so many of these are gone now in the States. I found three books, faded old Penguins!, by authors I had been searching for state-side for ages.

      Concerning strange new foods, how we limit ourselves if you we don’t at least give a try. Kathy and her husband have traveled far and wide…just back from Iceland and Norway (!), so I was pretty darn sure there would be no resistance to something unfamiliar. I am looking forward to my next trip to Taiwan in June 2015 – I am craving that shaved ice concoction….


  21. suzicate says:

    I have tired some strange concoctions, and fortunately I did NOT know what some of them were beforehand, ha!


  22. Looks delicious, Barbara. Will you be making the lovely dessert soup again? You are certainly a skilled cook to whip up something so delectable from new ingredients 😉 What a perfect day for a tea party 😉 Your garden looks wonderful. Best wishes, WG


  23. Diane Ahlberg says:

    Frog legs are about as exotic as I have gotten- but find the older I get the more willing I am to “try” something different.
    As you well know I have never been the one you try new things on- but salty I would try . I think it’s not only the texture of food but I eat with my eyes first, your spread looked amazing !
    PS- Rest in peace dear Berkley💔


  24. Mary says:

    I agree that you do have the coolest friends and an awesome BH!


  25. I was served a large chunk of red meat in West Africa. It was a bit tought but ok; I thought it was beef perhaps but found out later it was a “land snail.” Never knew snails could be that big….
    In the Caribbean, they made all kinds of “delicacies” out of poached sea turtles. Unfortunately, I was on the boat when the guys didn’t catch fish (as had been discussed) but harpooned (illegally) those beautiful large sea turtles. It was sickening and my only revenge was to refuse to eat the meat later on….


  26. I would try that dessert soup of yours – looks yummy!


  27. joannesisco says:

    I just found this post buried in my mailbox and after reading it and all the comments, I’m wondering if my gag reflex would have been better off without it.
    There was a time in my life I would have eaten virtually anything. As I get older however, the list of things that makes me shudder at the thought increases. I actually shuddered as I wrote that … thinking about blood sausages … oooh, just did it again.
    Sorry, your fungus soup didn’t pass the gag test … but your lovely picture did 🙂


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