Popular desserts for the Chinese New Year

Have you ever thought what are the popular desserts for the Chinese New Year? Yes, certainly, the Chinese have been known for their traditions, cultures, and how they take each celebration seriously. The Chinese celebrate the New Year accordance with the lunar calendar which this year starts on February 12th. And their celebration is never complete without the traditional desserts made to create luck, prosperity, happiness, and blessings for the New Year to come.

Here are some of the most popular sweet treats you can find. Some may even be available in your local Chinatown and Chinese bakeries.

Nian Gao or Chinese New Year Cake

This a Chinese New Year dessert, the Nian Gao- on of the popular desserts for the Chinese New Year
Nian Gao or Chinese glutinous rice cake

Also, known as the Nian Gao, this simple rice cake is made with two basic ingredients: brown sugar and sticky glutenous rice. This gelatinous cake symbolizes the increased prosperity and promotions in the New Year. It is sweet in most parts of the country but it can also be found as a savory dessert in the South.

The roundness of this cake symbolizes togetherness and completeness for the family and loved ones. These cakes are very temptingly squishy. They are the most popular and frequently made desserts on Chinese New Year day. Get the WD recipe here.

Jiān duī or Sesame Balls

This is a picture of the Sesame Balls
Sesame balls with bean paste

Being a pretty soothing but straightforward dish, also known as Jiān duī. These small sesame seed balls symbolize fullness. May our plates be forever full. They are also symbols of auspicious family reunions.

These balls are made with glutinous rice dough, rolled in sesame seeds and filled with red bean paste and deep fried, until they become golden crispy on the outside. However, they should remain soft, chewy and warm on the inside.

This famous dessert that dates back to the Tang dynasty is equally popular today.

Fa Gao or Steamed Cakes

Fa Gao Steamed Cake
This the the Fa Gao, a steamed cake enjoyed during Chinese New Year celebrations

Fa Gao literary means leaved cake in Mandarin. Gao is the common word for cake and Fa means leavened. Fa also means fortune and wealth so it is indeed the Prosperity Cake.  And as it is expected, it’s eaten during the Chinese New Year to usher in the year with good fortune and prosperity.

The cake also requires unique  techniques so when it is made should split open in four sections. In fact, it looks that it is smiling! It is made with fermented rice paste that is then steamed. If it is made well and the rice dough has raised, it will crack and “smile” at the end. Fa Gao is often made with different red fruits and veggies so it can be colorful.

Tāngyuán or Rice Balls

Rice Balls for the Lunar New Year
Rice Balls for the Lunar New Year

 These rice balls are a popular dessert made with glutinous rice flour, traditionally filled with black sesame paste, red bean paste  or mashed peanuts and then cooked and served in a sugary broth.

This dessert is commonly enjoyed on the fifteenth day of the lunar calendar that marks the end of the New Year Celebrations, also known as Lantern Day with the entire family. Some families even color the balls for better visuals.

As their name is a homophone for the word union –tuányuán-, Tāngyuán are a symbol of the family unity and are pleasantly eaten in all family unions, weddings and celebrations.

Ba Bao Fàn or Eight Treasure Rice Pudding

When it comes to lucky numbers, Chinese culture takes them very seriously and makes sure to use them in their daily life. The number eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture. To have access to luck, the Chinese inaugurate their Lunar New Year celebration with this eight treasure rice pudding.

Its original name is Ba Bao Fàn and here is the meaning: Bao means treasure, Ba is the number eight and Fàn is rice so you get it.

The pudding is made with steamed rice, topped with butter, sugar syrup, and eight treasures. The treasures being red jujubes, lotus seeds, dried longans, and other personal preferences of dried and candied fruits like dried mango, Chinese red dates, black dates etc. Once you find your favorite eight you are all set. Ideally, look for color in the ingredients so the cake will be colorful.

Tung-hwan or Sugar Rings

This is an image of Sugar Rings
Sugar Rings

This Chinese New year dessert is mainly for the kids; it is known as the Tung-hwan. This crispy and sweet dessert symbolizes togetherness and sweetness. Children are often seen enjoying these and sharing these sweet rings with their friends and families. They also look like golden coins so they bring luck and money!

Hup Toh Soh or Walnut Cookies

This is an image of Walnut Cookies
Walnut Cookies for the Lunar Year celebrations

These walnut cookies named as Hup Toh Soh in Mandarin are made to welcome the New Year and are a symbol of happiness.

These New Year cookies are made with simple ingredients using walnuts and sesame seeds for the extra crunch. However, you need to follow special baking techniques that will give you a warm, soft cookie with  plenty of cracks and a strong fragrance of walnuts.

Chinese traditions and cultures are very meaningful when seen in depth. They are well respected all across the world, even if many cannot understand these cultural activities and beliefs. The Chinese New Year is last for two weeks and features many customs, celebrations, and traditions tied to each day. The Chinese New year is on January 22, 2023, and that is when they get to enjoy all these and many more scrumptious treats.

Where to buy Desserts for the Chinese New Year

  • Start in your city, town, or neighborhood. If there is strong Chinese community, there will be many grocery and pastry shops that you sell everything you wish to buy for the Chinese New Year. In Seattle, visit the International District; I recommend to visit Uwajimaya, the quintessential Asian market. In San Francisco, China Town is the place to go. In New York City, visit the Chinese shops in Flushing, Queens as well as the China Town pastry shops and grocery stores in Manhattan. Wherever you are based, there will definitely be local Chinese stores that will filled with New Year delicacies and gifts. Do some research and expect to be surprised.
  • Your second choice is Amazon.com. There is a great selection of gifts, pastries and also decorations to buy from. Check them out here
  • Visit 85 C Bakery Café if there is one in your city. Bakery 85 sells all sorts of Asian desserts and provides everything related to Chinese New Year. You can get them online as well here. Follow the bakery in social media to get notified for new products, order and delivery dates in early January 2023.

Do you want to read your Chinse horoscope for 2023? Check it out here

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