The Chinese name is zhi1-ma2-hu2, "sesame mush". On labels it is called things like "sesame dessert", "instant sesame powder", and so on. None of this is very appetizing. But zhi1-ma2-hu2 itself is delicious. Hence I have given it what I hope is a delicious English name for its node title.

Zhi1-ma2-hu2 is one of the starchy foods that Chinese tend to eat in the winter. It is made from ground black sesame seeds and sugar, and there are sometimes other sweetners and stabilizers in it.. You buy it as a powder, and add hot water, stirring until everything is dissolved. Eventually it thickens, and then you drink it. In my house you are served it in a rice bowl or a big coffee mug, usually with a Chinese spoon.

Zhi1-ma2-hu2 is the consistency of a puréed pea soup. It feels a little mealy in your mouth, and you can chew it, but then again not exactly. It is the color of pencil graphite - a silvery dark grey with just a hint of a yellow tint, somewhere. There may be the slightest trace of oil on the surface. The sweetness of the cane sugar is subdued by the starchy taste. For me it is a great winter treat. I have fantasies about putting a few dried longans in a bowl of zhi1-ma2-hu2 and letting them expand and mingle red-brown with the sesame graphite, but somehow I never think of it until it's too late. Ah, the unfulfilled longings of life - sometimes they are sweetest when they remain unfulfilled!

We generally buy packages of zhi1-ma2-hu2 from Hong Kong companies, having found them substantially better in quality than those now being purveyed from Mainland China. That may change some day, of course, but for now we want the best we can afford. The Mainland zhi1-ma2-hu2 tends to be paler in color and sweeter, indicating that less of the expensive sesame is used.

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