The Must-Try Sweet Cake to Top Off a Savoury Shanghainese Meal
Shanghainese restaurants aren’t often thought of as places to enjoy dessert. If you take a closer look at their menus, however, you’ll quickly realize that the desserts are just as interesting and deserving of attention as their savoury counterparts. One such item worth noting is the mashed date cake, a sweet cake that tastes significantly better than it sounds. Not many places serve this dish anymore due to the amount of labour required to prepare it, but thankfully the cake can still be found at Suhang Restaurant in Richmond. I went there for lunch with my family on a sunny afternoon, and ordering this dessert was the perfect way to end our meal on a high note.
Suhang, one of the best though lesser-known Shanghainese restaurants in Richmond, is frequented by customers looking for an authentic meal in a clean, inviting, and elegantly designed setting. Owners Amy and Rocky are incredibly welcoming to all their guests, often taking the time to personally greet everyone when they’re not busy helping their staff around the restaurant. Needless to say, service is top notch here. When I’ve dined here, I’ve always felt comfortable and attended to without being interrupted. Best of all, Suhang’s servers can speak Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. They were even willing to entertain my extensive inquiry into how mashed date cakes are made.
Historically, Chinese people made a medicinal drink called jujube soup by boiling water with red dates in them. They found it wasteful to throw away the boiled dates afterward, so they made good use of them by peeling off the skins and mashing the fruit up into a paste. They would then combine this paste with glutinous flour, sticky rice flour, a bit of sugar, and a bit of oil to create a thick, sticky dough. The final step was to sprinkle some pine nuts on top before steaming the cake to cook it.
Suhang’s mashed date cake is presented in four diamond-shaped wedges, each roughly the size of a small doorstopper. Served warm, the cake is dark reddish-brown in colour with a texture that’s almost impossible to describe accurately in English. It’s dense from all the dates packed inside, chewy due to the glutinous flour, and smooth yet slightly gritty in terms of consistency. The closest thing I can equate it to is Chinese New Year cake (“nian gao”), but the mashed date cake is firmer with significantly less sugar.
The natural sweetness of the dates creates a deep flavour profile that has a slightly smoky aroma and tartness that isn’t sour. This contrasts well with the mild taste and soft crunch of the pine nuts on top.
Traditional recipes are preserved for a reason, and I, for one, am really glad that Suhang still makes this dessert for all to enjoy. Those looking to try the mashed date cake should make a reservation in advance since Suhang tends to get very busy during peak hours. I recommend driving to Suhang, but there are also plenty of bus stops around and two Canada Line stations nearby. Lastly, be sure to bring friends and family along – Shanghainese food is designed for sharing, desserts included!
Restaurant: Suhang Restaurant
Featured Dish Name: Mashed Dates Cake
Dish Type: Cake
Available For: All Day
Dish Price: $5.50
Flavour Profile: Sweet
Portion Size: For Share