Mango and Sago Pearls in Coconut Milk

Beijing Summer.
Hot, sticky, humid. Oppressive. Despite the week of absolutely beautiful weather we had, I’m pretty sure those glorious 80 degree, breezy, sunny, pollution free afternoons are going to be nothing but a memory soon. The smog has returned with a vengeance.

Despite this all, many Beijing residents find it much more pleasant to be outside rather than stuck in their tiny, stuffy apartments. As the sun sets and it cools off just slightly, every large intersection corner, every open space in front of a mall or large apartment complex, every park, fills up. Coming from a small town where once a week during the summer, there might be a gathering with some music, it’s kind of fun to see, every single night, the groups of old ladies dancing with their fans to drums and symbols. There are sometimes more than one group in the same plaza. Sometimes I wonder if they ever brawl over space. That would be kind of epic, angry old Chinese nai-nais shouting at each other and throwing down over who gets to dance where.

One thing I admire about Chinese society is that their old people refuse to settle down. Maybe it’s because they don’t have the immense presence of nursing homes or assisted living facilities, such as in America, or maybe the ones that do exist here are terrifying and more along the lines of the nursing home from Happy Gilmore, but Chinese elderly cling to active life. Cultural norms expect children to take care of and take their parents in to their apartment as they age. But that doesn’t stop them from being active. The park near my apartment is chock full of tiny, wizened old ladies and crabbed old men tottering around, leaning on their wheelchairs and they slowly walk and gossip with friends. People who can barely walk get up at 6 AM, and take tiny, slow, unstoppable steps as they collect recyclable cans and bottles, taking an hour to traverse the block. Last fall I saw a road-crew team ripping up a sidewalk, wielding pickaxes and shovels, and they were all pushing 70 or 80.

And of course, they’re really super judgy. It will be 75, 80 degrees, and I’ll leave my apartment in a t-shirt and shorts, and three of the neighborhood watch grannies will shake their heads and mutter about young folk thinking they’re impervious to cold. And then they’ll start going through my garbage, because foreigners waste a lot of things.

At my friend’s birthday dinner, three of us decided we really needed something that wasn’t lamb chuanr, beer, or cake. With the heat and the smoke from the chuanr grill wafting up right onto our party, we decided that smoothies sounded amazing. So we went on an adventure down Mao’Er Hutong all the way to Nanluo Guxiang, and picked one of the many beverage stalls. We all ended up getting mango and sago pearls in coconut milk. I had had a variant of this way back in the winter as a dessert at Duck De Chine, where they added pumelo segments. This was sweet, light, fruity and delicious. Hit the spot exactly.

Yesterday, the heat was weighing down on me, and even though I hadn’t eaten anything, the thought of food wasn’t tempting. Then I remembered this coconut concoction, and I wanted it. Not enough to bike all the way to Nanluoguxiang, but surely I could recreate it myself. I did a little research on Google Translate and Wikipedia to find out how to say “sago,” which is “ximi” or 西米. I walked over to the new WuMart that just opened up near my apartment. It was impressively shiny and upscale, and in the grain bins section I instantly found bags of sago pearls. Quite a success.

Bring a potful of water to boil, then add the sago pearls. I added about a 1/3 of a cup. Stir occasionally for 10 minutes while simmering, to prevent them from sticking to the pot. They get gloopy and a gelatinous layer forms on the stirring spoon. After ten minutes the pearls will be mostly translucent with a white dot in the center. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit for ten minutes. They should be completely translucent after this. Pour into a colander and rinse with cold water, then keep in a bowl of water until ready to use. They are sticky and will jam up into the mesh of the colander.

Sago Pearls. Look a bit like fish eggs.


Refreshing, light, and sweet.


Cut up a mango into small chunks, put into a small bowl or tall glass and add in the sago pearls. Then cover with coconut milk. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, feel free to add a spoon of honey or condensed milk, but this is delicious all on it’s own.

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