Have You Got the Balls?

Somehow during Chinese New Year celebrations last month, I missed out on the sesame balls. I had Dragon’s Beard candy and dumplings and many other traditional foods, but no sesame balls. As deep-fried sesame balls are one of my favourite treats, regardless of the time of year, I set off to Chinatown one day last week to rectify the situation. But I was curious – who had the best sesame balls? In recent years, I swore by Furama Cake and Desserts Garden on Spadina Avenue, mostly because it was the place I passed most often, yet my husband Greg frequented Yung Sing Pastry on Baldwin Street, as it was close to his office, and was adamant that the best sesame balls could be found there. So, we did a taste test – each of our favourites plus two others thrown in for good measure. I did my taste test knowing which ball was which, but Greg tasted each dessert “blind”, not knowing which ball came from which bakery. Our results were the same.

Bakery 18
lower level, Atrium on Bay,
595 Bay Street
cost: $1.25 for four small balls
filling: red bean paste
size: smallest per ball, possibly heaviest by weight

The most interesting thing about the sesame balls from Bakery 18 was the red bean paste filling. These balls had the highest paste to rice ratio and the red bean paste used was less sweet and cloying than from the other bakeries. There was no greasy smell, and the balls were not greasy to handle, but they appeared to be slightly stale – there was no crisp bite to the sesame seed coating and the glutinous rice interior was very rubbery. We didn’t even eat all of these.

Furama Cake and Desserts Garden
248-250 Spadina Avenue
416- 504-5709
cost: 80 cents
filling: red bean paste
size: second largest

The Furama ball, despite being my long-time favourite, didn’t fare well when compared with the others. The balls were wrinkly and over-cooked, with the smell of old grease. The ball oozed grease and left a coating on the roof of our mouths similar to that of a donut. Compared to the balls from Yung Sing and Kim Moon, my Furama balls just didn’t stand up.

Yung Sing Pastry
22 Baldwin Street
cost: 90 cents
filling: lotus paste
size: third largest

Although not the biggest, the balls from Yung Sing were our overall second favourite. The dessert had a clean, non-greasy smell, and a crispy outside shell with a nice bite. The lotus paste was a nice change from the typical red bean paste, and the rice paste was soft and melted in the mouth with no rubbery bounce. At 90 cents, the Yung Sing probably came in as the most expensive balls by weight, but they were the tastiest except for Kim Moon.

Kim Moon Bakery
38 Dundas Street West
cost: 80 cents
fillings: choice of red bean or lotus paste
size: Kim Moon has the biggest balls of them all!

I forget about Kim Moon Bakery, hidden away at Dundas and Huron, even though it was one of the first places I ventured when I found myself living in Chinatown twenty years ago when I moved to Toronto. That they’ve survived the Chinatown exodus north makes me very happy, but not as happy as I was eating the sesame balls they produce. A large gorgeous pastry, golden in colour and smelling sweetly of that happy Chinatown smell that sets mouths watering, the crust was perfectly crisp, without a sign of grease. The glutinous rice melted on the tongue and the red bean paste was sweet but not sickly.

Thus, we declare Kim Moon Bakery the winner in the sesame ball competition. With the largest, cheapest and most delicious balls on offer, we highly recommend you frequent their establishment for all of your sesame ball and other Chinese pastry needs.