Manna Cafe

After Nan Xiang, I kept mumbling “I want tong yuan I want tong yuan I want tong yuan.”  This loosely translates to “I want sugar balls I want sugar balls I want sugar balls” or more accurately, in my case, I wanted mochi (rice flour dumplings) filled with black sesame paste.  It’s a treat I had occasionally while growing up – some of us were lucky enough to have parents who made them from scratch, but I’m pretty sure my mom just bought the frozen kind.  In any case, DLS was game, and Noah joined us to wander around to look for them.

***Correction: I actually intended to go get dumplings (really, wontons for the nitpicky) from White Bear, but they were closed at the late hour we went.  I remembered I wanted tong yuan and decided to go search for them. 

Our wandering around brought us to Manna Cafe, whose menu was pretty eclectic but definitely listed some approximation of what I thought I was seeking.  Noah saw “cheese & scallop dumplings” and despite my warning that he was insane, he ordered them.  Well, folks, this is what it was: wonton wrappers around some gooey “cheese” and scallops that were super chewy – the “cheese” is the same kind that, if you ever go to a Chinese buffet, and you see pretty scallop shells topped with a small scallop and some sort of “baked cheese” is in the description – that’s what it was.  It winds up tasting like creamy cooked mayo, and there are people who LOVE this stuff.  I’ve never figured out what it is nor how I actually feel about it – full disclosure, I’ve eaten those weird baked scallops many times over the years – but it isn’t cheese like any other cheese I’ve seen anywhere else.  Noah choked these down and laughed at himself. 

I noticed on the menu something called “momo ja ja” which excited me greatly.  I said “oh my god! Momo jaja is a real thing?!  My dad used to say those words to me all the time and I never knew what he was talking about.”  But then I saw the picture and a dim memory clawed its way to the surface: isn’t there coconut in that?  DLS said no, he didn’t think so.  He ordered it, saying he remembered eating it before and liking it.  And when it came, I peered suspiciously at it.  He took a few spoonfuls and said “I don’t think there’s coconut in here” – and I responded by taking his spoon, sniffing its contents and rolling my eyes hard.  “Dude, this smells like [insert really funny but incredibly offensive comment here] – I’m not eating this.”  My coconut allergy sucks, but it also enhances my senses such that I can always tell when there’s coconut in something. 

Noah chose to order a bowl of the almond milk soup with mochi dumplings, though they forgot the dumplings at first.  His was super thick, and a little odd – while tasty, I couldn’t get past the texture.  It was like… cream of wheat or something? but smoother.  Just… weird.  He seemed to like it fine, once he’d received his mochi dumplings in a clear ginger water that he used to cut the thickness of his almond milk a bit. 

Unfortunately, I really just wanted black sesame mochi dumplings in the clear ginger water, but that wasn’t on the menu.  Black sesame soup was, as were plain mochi dumplings, so I ordered these two in combination to sort of approximate what I wanted.  Again, unfortunately, this didn’t really work.  The ratio of black sesame to mochi dumpling was just off – I wanted to nibble on the edge of the mochi dumpling and have black sesame burst forth, gushing into my mouth.  I wanted the childhood memory I was trying to recreate to at least seem familiar, and this wasn’t it.  I couldn’t eat too much of this – the soup base was super thick (thicker than what I’d expect inside a filled mochi dumpling), and just weird.  I wound up pushing aside most of it, saying “DLS? I don’t want any more. You finish it.” 

Yvo says: I recognize Manna Cafe’s menu as a very specific type of restaurant – Hong Kong Cafe, which I totally adore – and might go back for other items on their menu, or even to try to order the tong yuan the way I wanted them – in a clear ginger soup, despite this choice not being on the menu.  But what we’d ordered that night – aside from DLS, who seemed happy enough with his momojaja – fell very flat for me personally, though I will say this is a matter of personal expectations and personal preferences.  I don’t think they messed up making any of our food. 
I didn’t find what I wanted, but you might…

Manna Cafe on Urbanspoon


    • says

      I know! I keep dawdling in front of the freezer case at supermarkets thinking maybe I should just buy those. But Hungry has said she’ll teach me to make them, so hopefully that will cure my craving. I’m pretty “homesick” lately (I don’t know what the word is when you’re homesick for a home that doesn’t exist anymore; like, for my childhood – nostalgic?).

  1. says

    Tong yuan is actually soup balls. Not sugar balls. By the look of things, you had tong sui which is sugar water. It’s more about the soupy base than the mochi/dumplings.

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