The Year of the Rat kicks off on January 25, marking the start of many celebrations and festivities that revolve around food. One of the most popular categories of Lunar New Year cuisine is dessert—traditional Chinese desserts, to be exact. The number eight is considered lucky in Chinese culture because both its Cantonese and Mandarin pronunciations rhyme with fa, which means “to make a fortune or gain wealth”.
So, here’s a collection of eight Chinese desserts worth trying—they’re delicious and full of luck.
1. Sticky Rice Cakes
(leen go or nian gao)
Made with glutinous rice and brown sugar, these bites of chewy goodness are also known as Chinese New Year cakes. Easy to prepare at home from premade batches, they’re usually eaten at breakfast or as an afternoon snack. Sticky rice cakes are a staple for the Lunar New Year and are considered to bring you luck and prosperity in the coming year. You can find them at T&T Supermarket, Real Canadian Superstore, Asian bakeries, and Kirin restaurants (various locations).
2. Black Sesame Rice Balls
(tong yoon or tang yuan)
Many different kinds of rice balls are served at this time of year, but the most popular are the ones made with glutinous rice flour and water with a black-sesame filling. This dessert is cooked in boiling water and is usually served with a sweet dessert-soup base. Eating black-sesame rice balls for the Lunar New Year is said to bring the family together, because the Chinese terms tong yoon and tang yuan sound like the phrase that means “reunion”. You can buy frozen packages at your local Chinese supermarket or have them fresh at various Chinese restaurants.
3. Water Chestnut Cake
This Cantonese dim sum dish has a translucent appearance and tender texture. Made of shredded Chinese water chestnut, the cake is usually cut into small squares and pan-fried before serving. It’s a favourite in Hong Kong that’s especially popular during the Lunar New Year. The Cantonese term for “cake” sounds the same as “rising” or “growth”, making this dish a symbol of prosperity and rising fortunes. You can make your own water chestnut cake at home or try it at Richmond's Jade Seafood Restaurant (280-2811 Number 3 Road).
4. Sweet Red Bean Soup
A traditional Chinese dessert that’s sometimes eaten as a late-night snack, red bean soup is a favourite for any celebration, including Lunar New Year. Made with red beans, sun-dried tangerine peels, and lotus seeds, the sweet dessert soup contains vitamins B and E. It’s usually eaten hot, and variations include the addition of glutinous rice balls, or sago. You can make your own at home using a few simple ingredients found in Chinese supermarkets. If that’s too time-consuming, you can try a bowl at many Chinese restaurants—including Hong Kong-style dessert spot, Snackshot (7980 Granville Street).
5. Sesame Fritters
A must-have for Lunar New Year, sesame fritters are deep-fried cookie balls rolled in sesame seeds. They have a characteristic cracked opening that emulates a wide grin—giving them the Chinese name of “grinning fritters”. Most people consider this food a New Year’s snack more than a dessert, but it works both ways. The golden colour of the fritters symbolizes wealth, while the grin represents laughter. You can buy these bite-sized delights at Chinese bakeries, including Saint Germain Bakery (various locations).
6. Osmanthus Jelly
After indulging in heavy dinner dishes to welcome the Lunar New Year, you may want to have something lighter for dessert. Similar to the water-chestnut cake mentioned above, osmanthus jelly is also translucent, and made with dried osmanthus flowers and goji berries. Not only does it look and taste great, this dessert also has medicinal powers such as cough suppression. You can order it at Peninsula Seafood Restaurant inside Oakridge Centre (650 West 41st Avenue) or find a recipe online and make it at home.
7. Crispy Peanut Dumplings
Shaped like golden nuggets, these deep-fried snacks (or desserts) are usually filled with a mixture of peanuts, sesame seeds, coconut, and sugar. The crust is intricately braided—which is the hardest part of making this at home. The dumplings’ colour symbolizes wealth for the coming year. It’s much simpler to buy these dumplings than to prepare them at home, and you’ll find them at Asian bakeries, T&T Supermarket, and Real Canadian Superstore.
8. Eight Treasure Rice
This sweet, sticky dessert has long been regarded in China as a staple for Lunar New Year. Made with glutinous rice and a variety of dried fruits and nuts, including red dates and lotus seeds, Eight Treasure Rice is a colourful and tasty dish with a rich history. One of many stories that revolve around this dessert suggests that it was created to celebrate eight warriors who defeated a tyrannical king. Another tells the tale of a starving general on the run who kept himself alive by cooking this dish using whatever ingredients he could find. You can try it at Dinesty Dumpling House (various locations).More