Bargain, Balanced, Ballin': 11 Black Sesame Bites For All Budgets

By Sophie Steiner, March 24, 2023

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Bargain, Balanced, Ballin’ is where we take a deep dive into a certain dish or food fad, one by one, creating a guide for where to sample the best (and sometimes worst) of them, all around the city and for any and every budget.

Black and darker-colored sesame seeds are mostly produced in China and Southeast Asia and, with a history spanning more than 5,000 years, have been used in everything from grain flour to burning oil used in the production of ink blots.

In more recent history, however, they have been put to culinary use, particularly in desserts. 

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Rich in vitamin B, magnesium, calcium, manganese and iron, sesame seeds have numerous health benefits, in addition to be fantastically delicious in both sweet and savory formats. 

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Aside from the usual suspects found streetside in China – like Cantonese black sesame dessert soup or black sesame paste stuffed tangyuan, mostly available during Lantern Festival – Shanghai has its own modern take on this ancient ingredient, serving it up in ice cream form, baked into desserts, shaken into cocktails and stirred in lattes. 

Bargain – RMB2.5-28

Yili Baozi (伊丽包子) – Black Sesame Baozi (RMB2.5)

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While you can get baozi on nearly every street corner, Yili Baozi on Gao’an Lu is serving up this classic Chinese breakfast just a step above the rest.

How so? It's their higher filling-to-bun ratio and better quality ingredients. 

Plus, they are one of the few authentic baozi shops we’ve found around Shanghai that still offer the black sesame variety, our favorite sweet alternative to the customary pork and veg filling. 

The Black Sesame Baozi's (RMB2.5) steamed mantou bun is pillowy and warm, like biting into a cloud, that gives way to a molten lava sweet center of sticky sesame paste, laced with oh-so-much sugar.

It's best enjoyed while the filling is hot and gooey, so come prepared for instant sesame gratification.

Mi Mian Hui Xin – Steamed Black Sesame Xiaolongbao (RMB14/3 pieces, RMB28/6 pieces)

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Classic dim sum dishes is what you will mostly find at Mi Mian Hui Xin, with the exception of a few surprises – namely the black-freckled Steamed Sesame Xiaolongbao (RMB14/3 pieces, RMB28/6 pieces).

These saccharine soup dumplings sag like water balloons ready to explode on impact. A tidal wave of sugary black sesame unleashes a flavor onslaught on your mouth in the sweetest interpretation of a xiaolongbao we have ever tasted.

XChez Choux – DIY Black Sesame Ice Cream (RMB28)

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Hidden in a back corner of Taikoo Hui, near metro exit #8, is XChez Choux, an unassuming café and ice creamery, offering up black sesame treats in numerous forms.

The most popular choice is the DIY Black Sesame Ice Cream (RMB28), a scoop of sesame ice cream with the option to add on black sesame seeds in place of sprinkles, and a lashing of sesame oil instead of a sundae's chocolate or caramel sauce, both of which just amp up the overall nuttiness. 

We have zero qualms with the concentrated sesame flavor of the ice cream – it's robust and roasty – but the mouthfeel doesn't cut it. Skewing towards icy rather than creamy, we would rather have more cream blended in before it's frozen than just being handed the reins to balance the fat content ourselves with the side of sesame oil. 

Balanced – RMB32-38

Egg – Black Sesame Latte (RMB32)

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As one of the original Shanghai venues offering everyday casual brunch offerings, it's no surprise that Egg has got it going on on the coffee front.

We're all familiar with their coconut cold brews (the best in the city) and their autumn seasonal pumpkin spiced latte, but for those of us in the know, there's also the Black Sesame Latte (RMB32), available on their secret menu. 

The latte is simply black sesame paste stirred with frothed milk, finished with a sprinkling of seeds for an added hit of sesame in every sip. Or, choose to add in a shot of freshly brewed espresso for a few extra kuai to feed the caffeine fix.

Azabuya – Black Sesame Ice Cream (RMB35/2 scoops cone, RMB40/2 scoops cup)

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Dense like a Dairy Queen blizzard, the ultra-rich consistency of Azabuya is hard to beat. This ice cream shop sensation began with just one location in Taikoo Hui, but with sprawling lines at all hours of the day, it has expanded to Wulumuqi Lu and is soon to open a third location on Yongkang Lu. 

Most famous for their matcha ice cream – of which there are three grades to choose from – they also offer a variety of other Asian-inspired flavors, like Grapefruit Lychee, Hojicha and, of course, Black Sesame (RMB35/2 scoops in a cone, RMB40/2 scoops in a cup).

The black sesame is a must-order; nutty and luscious like a umami bomb, with toasted black sesame seeds mixed in for added textural crunch.

Luneurs – Black Sesame Praline Ice Cream (RMB35/1 scoop, RMB50/2 scoops)

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Luneurs' Black Sesame Praline (RMB35/1 scoop, RMB50/2 scoops) is notably more subtle than the other ice creams that make this list.

The base is only mildly reminiscent of sesame – more milk cream with just a hint of added black sesame flavor, noted in the muted color.

The majority of the black sesame aroma stems from the crunchy brittle-like black sesame praline ribbons that are swirled throughout.

While Luneurs takes the cake – err, ice cream – on addicting textural contrast, it's more of an "intro to black sesame" flavor for those who aren't ready to take the deep dive into full on black sesame overload. 

Gelato Dal Cuore – Black Sesame Ice Cream (RMB38/2 scoops cup, RMB45/2 scoops cone)

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Gelato Dal Cuore's gelato flavors are a labor of love, with Italy-trained Gelato Chef Gerard Low focusing on sourcing the highest quality ingredients that will result in the most ideal balance of flavor and texture.

 "We used to grind the black sesame seeds in house before blending them into the gelato base," Chef Gerard explains, "but as we have expanded from one to six locations in the last few years, now we source our black sesame paste from a local supplier, one we selected from more than a dozen to find the exact right fit."

While most others have rotated out over time, the Black Sesame Ice Cream (RMB38/2 scoops in a cup, RMB45/2 scoops in a cone) has always been on the menu since they opened their doors in 2018  testament to its die-hard fan base.

Our favorite way to enjoy it is nestled inside a toasted brioche bun (a plush ice cream sandwich of sorts for just RMB48) or with coffee poured over the top as an affogato, also for RMB48. 

Ballin' – RMB78-128

Café Gray Deluxe – Black Sesame Ganache and Cocoa Nibs (RMB78)


Famed for its expansive terrace, Café Gray Deluxe in The Middle House has recently launched a revamped menu for spring, curated by new in-house chef Anthony Wang.

While the menu is all about delicate, clean tastes, the Black Sesame Ganache and Cocoa Nibs (RMB78) is the exception, with robust-flavored nutty black sesame ganache piped in curling ribbons atop a butter biscuit, contrasted against zippy house-made raspberry sorbet.

Tart beads of apricot jam are dotted throughout to cut through the bold seed's earthiness, while a crisp onyx-hued branch adorns the top.

Flair Rooftop Restaurant & Bar – Jasmine Tea Black Sesame Mango Mousse (RMB88)

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As one of the tallest (and most impressive) rooftops in Shanghai, Flair Rooftop Restaurant & Bar is more than just an incredible view of our beloved city, it also offers some noteworthy snacks, meals, treats and libations beyond the usual hotel bar fare. 

Case in point, the Jasmine Tea Black Sesame Mango Mousse (RMB88). A thin black sesame crust encases a marshmallow-esque, jasmine tea-scented mousse, stuffed with a strip of Alphonso mango jam atop an airy sponge cake.

Sprinkled with shredded coconut and flanked by a quenelle of coconut mousse, the sesame casing add a nuttiness to balance the mango's sweetness. 

The Merchants – Sesame Coco (RMB118)

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Like a booze-forward take on a Cantonese black sesame dessert soup, The Merchant's upstairs speakeasy-style cocktail bar highlights this uniquely Asian ingredient in the Sesame Coco (RMB118).

Havana Rum 3 Year is mixed with Disaronno Velvet – a mellifluous spirit with floral and fruity notes from almonds, plus nuances of chocolate and vanilla – plus amaro Montenegro, black cocoa and a creamy black sesame milk wash.

Pado – Yuja Black Sesame Burrata (RMB128)

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Chef Tom Ryu's Pado, a casual South Korean bistro focusing on soju culture, offers incredibly delicious 'bar snacks' – approachable, contemporary Korean plates that pair well with friendly drinking.

As black sesame is a beloved Korean flavor, it has found its way onto a few dishes here, most notably the Yuja Black Sesame Burrata (RMB128)

The plump fresh burrata rests atop a black sesame cream, adorned with pomelo segments. When pierced, the milky stracciatella strands are slathered in the sesame sauce, velvety and moorish.

Aside from the burrata, we highly recommend the fluffy Brioche (RMB38), served alongside homemade black sesame butter.

For more Bargain, Balanced, Ballin’, click here or scan the QR code: 


[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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