Zhi Ma Hu

zhi ma hu

An impenetrable steak and 芝麻湖 (zhīmahú, sesame paste).   These are the two legacies of my host mother’s cooking that remain with me from studying abroad in Nanjing three years ago.  Whereas the petrified steak was a single tragic attempt at cooking Western style food, the black sesame porridge became a daily morning staple while I lived in this southern Chinese home.

“This is very good for your health,” my āyí(阿姨, “aunty,” host mom) introduced 芝麻湖 to me during our first breakfast together.

Healthy indeed.  If you suffer from an incorrigible rasp, a bum kidney, a buildup of gallstones, pre-mature graying and balding, constipation, fatty blood streams or a pock-marked face, a daily bowl of 芝麻湖 just might come to your rescue, according to Chinese medicine (中医, zhōngyī) tradition.

By itself, I’ll admit, sesame paste is a rather dull treat.  Moreover, it can look like tar and gravel slop mixed with baby food.  However, the real glory of 芝麻糊 comes in its experimental value. The paste, which is sold in powder form, acts like a soup broth in that it forms the base for mixing other various ingredients together.  That’s when the taste of 芝麻糊 really shines.

My host mom’s recipe for black sesame porridge shifted from time to time, but it usually came prepared mixed with a little soy milk, oatmeal, beans and sugar.  In truth, many recipes exist for whipping up a steaming bowl of 芝麻糊 without a definitive original recipe.  As for me, now left to my own devices, I usually concoct my daily porridge using soy milk powder, oatmeal, nuts and raisins.  Recently, my mom sent me a massive package of trail mix—M&M’s chocolate candies, raisins, cashews, almonds and peanuts—which I used for the porridge until I quickly blew through it all.  Definitely my favorite style of 芝麻糊 to date.

How to make a healthy bowl of 芝麻糊:


-One individual package of black sesame paste powder (芝麻糊 is sold by the bag and found in any major Chinese supermarket)

-One individual package of soy milk powder (豆浆粉, dòujiāng fěn, is sold similarly in bags and also found in any Chinese supermarket)

-Oatmeal (燕麦片, yànmàipiàn)

-Peanuts (花生米, huāshēngmǐ)

-Raisins (葡萄干, pútaogān)

-Boiled water (开水, kāishuǐ)


1.  Boil water

2.  Assemble other dry ingredients in a bowl

3.  Mix bowled water with ingredients and stir thoroughly until all the powder dissolves into a liquid

4.  吃!(chī, eat!)