Five Desserts for Chinese New Year

Originally posted on KCET. For the full article and more photos, click here.

Photo credit: Melody from

Photo credit: Melody from

The Lunar New Year falls on Friday, January 31 and Chinese families around the globe are already prepping for their New Year Eve banquet. It’s single-handedly the most important holiday of the year — a 15-day observation littered with family time, red envelopes stuffed with money, and tons of symbolic food to ring in the start of the agricultural season.

For those with a sweet tooth, here are five appropriate desserts for your Chinese New Year feasts. Most of these delicacies can be either purchased at local Chinese supermarkets or sampled at Chinese dim sum restaurants.

1. Rice Cakes
The Chinese word for rice cake is nian gao, which is a homophone for increased prosperity. Rice cakes are crafted with sweet rice flour and mixed with milk, white sugar, and sometimes sweetened red bean paste. The texture is akin to mochi but it offers much more resistance and is often slightly crispy on the sides — depending on the version.

2. Eight Treasure Rice
Eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture and true to the dessert’s name, it really has eight different types of treasures — like red bean, lotus and other various dried fruit — overlaid on top. It’s a common dessert used to top off a family-style banquet. The glutinous rice is soaked in sugar and butter, then topped with sweetened lotus, dates, and fruits. The word eight in Chinese also sounds similar to the word “prosper.”

3. Candied Lotus Seeds
Candied lotus seeds, pronounced lian zhi, in Chinese sounds like the phrase “connected with children.” It’s supposed to symbolize a long line of offsprings. The crystallized lotus seeds are cooked in a syrup and then dried.

4. Tang Yuan
These sweet rice balls are the hallmark dessert of the Chinese New Year, often consumed during the 15th day of the celebration. Tang yuan is the sugary equivalent of a dumpling, often infused with black sesame, red bean, or grounded peanuts. It’s an auspicious dessert because the roundness of the delicacy signifies unity within the family.

5. Kumquats
Kumquats are a symbol of prosperity because the Chinese translation of kumquat means “gold orange.” They are often served plain, or preserved with sugar. The entire tree is often displayed in the home or given as gifts.