The Chinese equivalent of mochi, muah chee is a popular, traditional Hokkien dessert which is soft, chewy and bouncy. My easy vegan/ vegetarian muah chee recipe can be steamed, fried or even cooked in the microwave, air fryer and rice cooker!
What is muah chee?
Muah chee (麻糍, also known as muar chee), or Chinese mochi, has a chewy texture. A traditional South Chinese street snack (often eaten at breakfast!) that was brought to Singapore and Malaysia by the Hokkien and Teochew community, muah chee is especially popular amongst the elderly.
Sadly, making it is somewhat of a dying trade these days- lots of work for low returns- and it can be hard to find, so I decided to make my own as my Grandfather was a great fan of it.
ATTENTION: Glutinous rice flour foods are so sticky, if not chewed well, they can get stuck in one's throa and suffocate you so CHEW CAREFULLY. In Japan, people go to hospital (and even die) from eating mochi every year so be extra careful, especially with the young and old.
Fun fact: in Teochew, muah chee means "full of wealth" so it's a very lucky dish to eat during Chinese New Year, and is also a traditional dish to offer to the Gods- apparently, the sticky texture will help wealth stick to you! ("Muah" = full and "chNee" (which is how it is pronounced in Teochew)= $$$) Now that I know this, I made muah chee for CNY!
Have you noticed how similar the 2 names are? However, unlike Japanese mochi which is seen as quite refined and can be rather expensive, muah chee (which is like a Taiwan peanut mochi) is usually a cheap street snack (which is rather unfair as it is not traditionally any less work to make!)
Mochi usually comes in a round shape with a filling, but the latter is a softer, plain, formless dough that's traditionally coated with peanuts and/ or sesame.
Note: there is a similar Chinese dessert called tang yuan (glutinous rice balls) that is more similar to mochi. Chinese people normally eat that on winter solstice and on the last day of CNY.
IMPORTANT: cut the muah chee (and mochi) into small pieces and chew them well to avoid small bowel obstruction (which would cause significant stomach pain and maybe even hospitalisation.)
For the glutinous rice dough
- Glutinous Rice Flour
Substitute: Mochiko flour (Mochiko is made from cooked mochigome, a glutinous short-gain rice, but it creates a less elastic dough so your final result will not be so chewy) For more glutinous rice flour alternatives, click here.
Do not use rice flour instead! They're not the same thing at all. Some muah chee recipes recommend tapioca flour or potato starch as an alternative to glutinous rice flour but I've not personally tested them (yet). Will update with photo comparisons once done!
Modern twist: today, there are South East Asian variations of muah chee which use pandan juice.
The ratio of glutinous rice flour: water determines the texture of the snack. Good muah chee should be chewy, bouncy and almost stretchy - if you use too little water (for example, an equal ratio of water and dough), you'll end up with a too-thick dough that isn't bouncy in the least.
I recommend using a flour: water ratio of around 2:3 (i.e. for every 1 g of glutinous rice flour, use 1.35-1.5g of water.)
- Sesame oil
Substitute: You can use shallot oil, peanut oil or- as a last resort if you're trying to be healthier- a neutral vegetable oil such as sunflower oil. Note that the muah chee won't be anywhere as fragrant if you use a veg oil- in that case, pile on the toppings to make up for the lack! (Pork lard is the most traditional and also the tastiest alternative but obviously not vegan or vegetarian.)
I don't recommend olive oil as the taste is quite strong.
Note: if you're frying, omit the oil from the dough mixture. (It'll be added at a later stage- adding a bit of oil to the dough makes it a little silkier.)
- White caster sugar
Substitute: white granulated sugar.
Note: the amount of sugar is a guide- you may want to add more/less to your Chinese mochi depending on how sweet of a tooth you have!
- (A wee bit of) Salt
Note: there's only 1 last traditional muah chee maker in Singapore (Hougang 6 Miles Famous Muah Chee at Toa Payoh Hub #B1-01, Stall 21, Tel: +65 9862 1501 )- I've hiked down to try it before and it's delicious.
He stirs and pounds the dough for ages so it is much springier than any homemade muah chee and I highly recommend trying it. Well, you could probably get your Chinese mochi as bouncy if you're willing to spend an hour or so stirring and beating!
(You can still find this snack at pasar malams (night markets)- not that we have many of those at the moment due to crowd control measures- but those are usually bland microwave versions that pale in comparison to the traditional.)
For the coating
- Roasted peanuts
Traditional substitute: black sesame
Modern twist: you can use any other crushed nuts, such as cashews, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, brown sugar, grated coconut or a mix of ingredients.
Japanese fusion: to make it more like Chinese mochi, use green tea instead of water and/or coat the pieces in matcha powder!
Homemade peanut powder: fry the nuts
As there are so few ingredients in this recipe, it's important to use the best you can find. Hence, I prefer to fry my own peanuts- tastier than baked- then blend them (with the sugar) for the coating. This is quite a pain as if your raw peanuts have their skins, you're going to spend quite a bit of time removing the skins. (Don't process for too long or all the oil will come out and you'll end up with peanut butter.)
Or dry fry store-roasted ones to "wake them up"
An easier method is to buy store blended peanuts, and toast the mixture in a dry pan before making this Chinese mochi. (Or get unsalted, roasted whole peanuts, then process them yourself - these nuts are usually fresher than the crushed ones and you have more control over the texture.)
Peanut powder vs Crushed peanuts
Some recipes call for pure peanut powder, but I find including some bigger peanut pieces provide a better contrasting texture to the sticky and chewy dough, so my recipe calls for mixing peanut powder with bigger crushed/ chopped peanuts- the fine peanut powder is to ensure each piece is coated well and the bigger pieces provide bite!
For more information on frying peanuts, and if you're a fan of them, you may want to check out my Chinese vegetarian peanut cookies recipe, 1 of the most popular recipes on this blog.
Note: It's harder to find pre-ground black sesame powder but you can dry fry black sesame seeds then put them through a spice grinder. (Apparently, black sesame muah chee is extra auspicious!) Whichever you choose- peanut or black sesame- you need to mix it with sugar to make a tasty coating for the dough.
- White caster sugar
Substitute: white granulated sugar
How to Cook
Muah chee is traditionally cooked over a low fire, but I've made my Chinese mochi recipe flexible so it can be steamed, fried, cooked in the microwave, rice cooker or air fryer. Personally, I find steaming the easiest as it's mainly passive cooking compared to the other methods where you need to stir the dough every few minutes.
Note: you can even use a thermomix if you have 1!
A quick summary of cooking times (excluding the time to stir and fold the dough at the end):
- Steaming (traditional)- approximately 15-20 minutes
- Pan frying - about 15-20 minutes
- Air frying- about 10 minutes
- Rice cooker- about 9 minutes
- Microwave- 3-4 minutes
Note: you can also make a boiled version then coat it with peanuts and sesame- sort of like a Taiwan peanut mochi recipe. This will take about 20-30 minutes but is quite a different process to the above methods, so I'll leave it for another post!
If you're pressed for time, microwaving is the way to go, as a good microwave should cook the dough in 3-4 minutes, which is 20% of the steaming time! The texture is going to suffer though, so make sure you stir and fold MANY times at the end.
Don't add the oil to the dough as you'll be using it to pan fry.
What type of Rice Cooker?
Any rice cooker works- if yours is a modern multi-function machine, use the regular "cook rice" function. However, note that if you have an older model which doesn't have a non-stick pot, you may have some problems getting the dough out!
How to store
Muah chee tastes best when eaten right after cooking- if not, it becomes less soft and bouncy. However, if you made too much of this Chinese mochi, cover the uncoated dough tightly with cling film and store in the fridge for 3-5 days. (Once cold, the muah chee will harden - and won't be sticky- so you will need to reheat before coating and serving.)
If you've already coated the dough, it will taste good left at room temperature for up to 1 day- moisture will start forming which will make the coating soft, so coated muah chee shouldn't be left overnight.
The peanut or black sesame toppings can be stored in an air tight container at room temperature. Ideally, don't mix in the sugar till right before coating the dough, as the oils of the peanut and sesame will melt the sugar.
How to reheat
Steam till soft, cool for 10 minutes, then coat the Chinese mochi with your preferred topping.
Yes. The traditional ingredients are glutinous rice flour, crushed peanuts (or black sesame, water, salt, sugar and an oil (usually pork lard, shallot oil or sesame oil)- all of which do not contain gluten
Your water: glutinous rice flour ratio is probably wrong. Too little water will result in a hard and non-chewy texture. More details in the post and recipe card on the correct ratio.
Yes. It's best eaten right after making but the uncoated dough can be kept for 3-5 days in the fridge. See my post for more details on storage.
- To tell when the glutinous rice dough is cooked, check the colour and texture. The colour should have changed and the texture will be squidgy.
- For the best springy texture, you need to stir and fold the muah chee dough many times after it has been cooked- this is similar to how mochi is pounded.
- The batter should be quite sticky after cooking - you want the coating to stick to it, after all- so you may want to very lightly oil the container (that you're pouring the liquid dough into) to make it easier to remove the cooked dough. (Once the dough is coated, it won't be sticky anymore.)
- Some recipes say to use scissors to cut the dough into pieces- this is undoubtedly the cleanest method which produces the neatest looking snack, but a professional muah chee seller once told me that you want messy looking pieces- the crevasses on each piece offers more surface area for the coating to stick to, making for a more delicious snack. So use your(oiled) hands to pinch off smaller pieces, or use (oiled) chopsticks and not scissors!
- Each piece of this Chinese mochi snack should not be large in size- the dough is pretty bland, and most of the flavour is from the sugar and peanut coating, so if the pieces are too big, the ratio of dough: coating will be too high and it won't be tasty.
- Be generous with the topping: I've only heard gripes about too little peanuts/ sesame and never complaints that there was too much!
- Muah Chee is best eaten fresh, so serve immediately after cooking and don't batch make in advance. If you end up making more than you can consume, I've directions above on how to store and reheat.
- Coat each piece only when you want to eat it, if not the topping will soften due to the moisture in the dough, and it won't provide as much bite.
Other glutinous rice recipes
muah chee (steam)(fry)(microwave)(rice cooker) (vegetarian)
- Rubber heat-proof spatula
- Pan if frying the dough
- If not frying: Non-stick heat-proof bowl that can be steamed/ put in the air fryer/ microwave (depending on which cooking method you choose) Oil the bowl you're cooking the dough in, especially if it's not non-stick! This will make it easier to pinch out the cooked batter later.
- Optional: chopsticks for pinching the dough I prefer using my (oiled) fingers but if you're going the chopstick route, oil the front bit first.
- Optional: spice grinder if grinding your own black sesame coating
- Optional: blender or food processor if frying and crushing your own peanuts
For the dough
- ⅔ C Glutinous rice flour (83g or 2.9 oz) Some people have said potato starch or tapioca flour can be used as substitutes but I've never tried them and am not confident they'll produce the same bouncy texture.
- ½ C Water (118ml or ¼ lb)
- ½ Tablespoon Sesame oil (If frying the dough, you will need more oil- about 1-2Tablespoons) You can substitute with pork lard, shallot oil (directions in the notes on how to make shallot oil), peanut oil or even a neutral vegetable oil like sunflower (least recommended as it's tasteless)! If you don't have oil, that's fine too (for steaming/ rice cooker/ microwave/ air fryer) but the dough won't be as smooth or fragrant.
- ⅔ teaspoon white caster sugar Substitute: white granulated sugar.
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1-2 T Sesame oil Skip this step if frying the dough. Substitute: pork lard/ shallot oil/ neutral vegetable oil (least recommended)- this is for lightly coating the dough before rolling in the peanut or black sesame topping. If you're coating with matcha or cocoa powder, however, you may want to skip oiling the dough as it's easy for the powder to become oily.
- ½ C Peanuts Substitute: black sesame seeds, cashews, hazelnuts, matcha powder etc.
- ⅛ C White caster sugar, or to taste Substitute: White granulated sugar. You may want to add more or less depending on how sweet you like your food!
For oiling the equipment
- Neutral vegetable oil To prevent the dough from sticking
Make the coating first
- The dough hardens on contact with air, so prepare the coating first to make sure everything is mis-en-place once the dough is cooked and cooled.
- For black sesame coating: dry fry the black sesame seeds till fragrant, let it cool, then grind in a spice grinder. Mix with the sugar till evenly distributed.
- For peanut coating: fry the peanuts, let them cool, remove the skins, then blend in 2 batches. Process the 1st batch till it's crushed into 1-2mm pieces but blend the 2nd batch further till a powder (but not so much that it becomes peanut butter). Mix the 2 batches with the sugar till evenly distributed.
- For peanut coating with store-roasted peanuts: You can buy this in powder, crushed and whole peanut form. I suggest toasting the nuts before coating to make it more aromatic, then processing as per above.
- Mix all the dough ingredients and stir well till the flour is dissolved.
- Pour into the oiled heat-proof bowl then steam for 15-20 minutes. (The dough will solidify, become sticky and change colour when cooked)
- Stir the dough till it becomes bouncy enough for your liking (minimum 1-2 minutes) then let cool for about 5-10 minutes. (Don't leave for too long as the dough will form a hard coating around it.)
- Once cooled, pinch off small pieces with your oiled hands and dip them in the oil- you want the dough VERY lightly oiled and not dripping!- then coat with the peanuts, black sesame or whatever you've chosen to use.
- Serve immediately and enjoy!
- In an (oiled) microwave-safe bowl, stir all the dough ingredients together till the flour has dissolved into the liquid and is smooth- the mixture will feel thicker than water when stirring.
- Put the bowl in the microwave and blast on high for 2 minutes. The dough should be partially formed at this point i.e. half solid, half liquid but if your microwave wattage is too low, it will take longer. (I recommend starting with 2 minutes first regardless of the wattage, because the shorter the cooking time, the softer the dough.)
- Use a rubber spatula to stir well, then microwave again for 1 minute on high. Remove and stir again (folding the dough into itself to give it a bouncy texture). If the dough still has liquid parts, microwave for 1 more minute, then stir well. (Repeat this till there's no more liquid- the exact time will vary depending on the microwave model. As a guide, a 1000W microwave took a total of 3½-4 minutes to make muah chee- the longer the cooking time, the harder the dough.)
- Once the dough has absorbed all the liquid, do NOT stop stirring- keep folding the dough into itself till you are satisfied with the springiness. (Do this for at least 1-2 minutes)
- Allow the dough to cool for 5-10 minutes (don't leave it too long or it'll become hard and the peanuts/ black sesame won't stick)
- Once cooled, pinch off small bits with your oiled hands and dip them in the oil- you want the dough VERY lightly oiled and not oozing!- then coat with the peanuts, black sesame or whatever topping you've chosen to use.
- Eat straightaway!
Rice Cooker- don't add the oil into the liquid dough till after it's been cooked
- Stir all the dough ingredients EXCEPT the oil till everything is dissolved.
- Pour the liquid batter into the (lightly oiled) rice cooker pot, pop it in and switch on the rice cooker- if yours is a multi-function device, make sure it's in "Cook Rice" mode.
- After 3 minutes, open the rice cooker and stir the dough well with a rubber spatula. At this point, the batter is still partially liquid.
- Repeat the cooking and stirring 3 times (i.e. a total of 9 minutes cook time). By the 3rd cycle, there should be minimal liquid left, which should be absorbed into the dough when you stir and fold it into itself. (The rice cooker is still on whilst you stir the dough.)
- Once the dough is fully cooked (there's no more liquid and the colour has changed), add the oil (optional) and fold the dough into itself till the oil is fully absorbed. Stirring the batter is what makes it springy, so stir and fold for at least 1-2 minutes. Longer if you can!
- Let it cool for 5-10 minutes (not too long or the dough will become hard and the peanuts/ black sesame topping won't stick)
- Once cooled, pinch off small pieces with your oiled hands and roll them in a bit of oil- you want the dough VERY lightly oiled and not oozing!- then coat with the peanuts, black sesame etc
- Best eaten right after coating!
- Mix all the dough ingredients well till a smooth liquid batter forms.
- Pour it into an air-fryer safe pot, which you leave in the air fryer at 180C for approximately 10 minutes- every 2 minutes, you'll need to open the air fryer and stir the dough several times. It should get progressively stickier and more "chewy". Note: the timing is a guideline and not prescriptive- if the dough is fully solid by the end of the (eg) 4th cycle, stop cooking then- if you do all 5 cycles, the dough will become tough.
- At the end of the 5th cycle (10 minutes cooking time in total), the dough should have very little or no liquid left. Keep stirring and folding the dough for 1-2 minutes to give it an elastic texture.
- Allow the dough to cool for 5-10 minutes (not too long or the it will become hard and the topping won't stick)
- Once cooled, pinch off small bits with oiled hands and roll them in a bit of oil- you want the dough VERY lightly oiled and not oozing!- then coat with the peanuts, black sesame etc
- Serve straightaway.
Frying- don't add the oil into the liquid dough
- Mix all the dough ingredients except the oil till all dissolved
- Heat a pan on low-medium heat, pour in 1 Tablespoon sesame oil/ shallot oil/ peanut oil/ vegetable oil/ pork lard and once hot, add the liquid batter and stir.
- The batter will slowly thicken- keep stirring and folding till it changes colour and becomes a thick, solid dough. The cooking process will take 15-20 minutes. If necessary, add the other tablespoon of oil.
- Once done, stir and fold a few more times then cool for 5-10 minutes. Don't leave it too long or the batter will solidify.
- Since the dough was stir-fried in oil, it is not necessary to dip them in oil again. Simply pinch off small pieces of dough and roll in the coating.
- Serve rightaway and enjoy your traditional Chinese snack!
If you've made this Chinese street snack, which method did you go for? I like steaming and frying the best!