Chinese New Year desserts are a staple of every celebration. It is believed that consuming them will bring many blessings to the family, with each dessert symbolizing a particular fortune.
Today marks the beginning of the “Ren Yin” year, which translates to the Year of the Water Tiger. With this, festivities in China and other Southeast Asian countries abound. Family members travel back home from all over the world and across the country so that they can celebrate this festival together.
The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year, does not just represent the start of a new calendar year. It is also a time when reunion and rebirth occur. Winter ends and spring starts.
Houses are decorated with red to represent good luck, while children receive money placed in an “ang pao”, which is a bright red envelope. The practice of giving money in these envelopes is believed to remove bad luck and welcome good luck.
Children born in this year are characterized as brave, strong, and competitive.
What are the Traditional Chinese New Year Desserts that You Should Eat?
1. Chinese New Year Cake
The Chinese New Year Cake is the country’s most famous dessert. It is also called as 年糕 niángāo in the Chinese language. 年 means “year”, while 糕 means “cake”. The character 糕 is pronounced similarly as 高, which means “tall” or “high”. Together, niángāo sounds similar to “year high”.
It is therefore believed that eating this Chinese New Year dessert brings about increased prosperity, more promotions at work, and better growth for children throughout the coming years.
The round shape of the popular Chinese New Year dessert is also representative of togetherness and completeness.
A Brief History of the Most Popular Chinese New Year Dessert
There are different stories about the origins of the Chinese New Year Cake.
The Kitchen God Legend tells a story that the niángāo was made to serve as an offering to the Kitchen God. He is present in every house, and on the last day of the year, he reports to the Jade Emperor about each household. Citizens offer niángāo to the Kitchen God so that its sticky consistency will keep his mouth shut. He will then be unable to report anything bad about the household to the Jade Emperor.
The Foundation Bricks Legend tells a different story. Wu Zixu was a general and government official in the Wu kingdom. However, Goujian, the King of Yue, decided to take over the capital of the Wu kingdom after Wu Zixu died. This left the citizens and army of the Wu kingdom trapped inside the city with no food. As a result, people died because of hunger.
The citizens eventually solved the problem of hunger by taking inspiration from the words of Wu Zixu: “If the country is in trouble and the people are in need of food, go and dig three feet under the city wall and get food.” Soldiers did just that and discovered that they could eat the bricks that made up the foundation of the wall since they were created with glutinous rice flour. This put an end to the hunger experienced by the citizens.
Making niángāo became a tradition to honor Wu Zixu.
There are different types and flavors of the niángāo across the provinces of China. However, the simplest ingredients always include glutinous rice flour, white or brown sugar, and water. It is then steamed or baked, producing a sweet, soft, and moist Chinese New Year dessert.
2. Rice Dumplings
This dessert is most especially important during the Chinese Lantern Festival. This occurs 2 weeks after the Chinese New Year and signifies its end.
The tāngyuán is eaten on this day because its shape and color are reminiscent of the full moon.
Rice dumplings can be sweet or savory in flavor. The rice balls are filled with grounded sesame, mashed peanuts, or sweet bean paste to create a sweet taste. On the other hand, minced meat and vegetables are used to create salty rice dumplings.
Eating this Chinese New Year dessert represents unity in the family.
Its Chinese name is 汤圆 tāngyuán. However, it was not originally called that. During the Yongle Era, rice dumplings were called 元宵 yuan xiao, which means “first evening.” The previous name of this Chinese New Year dessert was changed when Yuan Shikai became an emperor because it sounded similar to removing Yuan from power.
3. Steamed Sponge Cake
Sponge cake in the Chinese language is 发糕 (fāgāo), which reminds citizens of making a fortune and gaining more wealth.
It is often consumed for breakfast. It tastes sweet and has a special fragrance to it brought about by the glutinous rice wine used to make it.
Because it is also known as “prosperity” or “fortune” cake, this dessert is also served at ceremonial events, weddings, and other holidays.
It is believed that this steamed sponge cake originated when a woman living in the rural area combined mixed distiller grains with the flour of the steamed rice cake by mistake. The fermentation of the distiller’s grains resulted in a soft and tasty cake that had a hint of wine.
4. Sesame Seed Balls or Sesame Seed Baguettes
This Chinese New Year dessert is made with the use of glutinous rice flour and is stuffed with red bean paste and rolled in white sesame seeds. It is then fried, producing a crispy outside and a soft and chewy inside. It represents fullness, happiness, and prosperity.
Its Chinese name is 麻球 máqiú or 麻通 mátōng.
5. Fried Dough Twists
This dessert is made with two or three bars of dough paste that are twisted together, representing reunion. It is fried until it becomes crispy and has a harder density than the sesame seed baguette.
Its Chinese name is 麻花 máhuā.
Tianjin is especially a popular place to buy fried dough twists. The texture, flavor, and use of creative ingredients make them one of a kind in this city.
6. Sugar Rings
Sugar rings, also known as 糖环 tánghuán, are the South China equivalent of the fried dough twist in North China. This traditional Chinese New Year dessert is very popular in Guangxi and Guangdong.
It takes the shape of a flower and has a crispy texture and a sweet taste. It is most enjoyed by kids. Sugar rings represent togetherness and sweetness.
7. Fried Flour-Coated Peanuts
Longevity nuts, as peanuts are also called, represent vitality and longevity. Peanuts, while inside the shell, are lathered with a mixture made of brown sugar and flour. They are then baked until a light brown color is achieved.
It is called 鱼皮花生 yúpíhuāshēng in the Chinese language.
8. Peanut Brittle
Peanut brittle is another creative Chinese New Year dessert that has a sweet taste, crispy texture, and fragrant smell. Shelled peanuts are combined with malt sugar to create this dessert.
This dessert, also known as 花生糖 huāshēngtáng, represents longevity and good fortune. It is also believed to bring about a happy, sweet, and prosperous year to come.
9. Caramel Treats
It is a soft and sweet traditional Chinese New Year dessert that can be bought in almost all supermarkets and bakeries. It is made of strips of dough paste that are fried and mixed with syrup. Nuts, osmanthus, and other flavorful ingredients can be added as well. Once cooled, they are cut into smaller pieces.
Its Chinese name is 沙琪玛 shāqímǎ and is believed to symbolize sweetness and good fortune.
10. Walnut Cookies
This dessert is also known as 核桃酥 hétáosū.
It is made of flour and walnuts and then baked to have a soft texture, a yellow color, and many cracks on top. It represents happiness.
These Chinese New Year desserts, apart from being delectable, are linked to a decades-long tradition. Consuming these will truly bring a happy new year.