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Traditional Chinese New Year Desserts and Snacks

It is well known that the most important meal of the year in China is the Family Reunion Dinner on New Year’s Eve, everyone glutting on good food, but did you know that Chinese New Year is also an excellent excuse for people to gorge on sweets and snacks?

Ⅰ. Nian Gao: Prosperity and Promotion Year on Year

  • Chinese name: 年糕 nián gāo

Nian gao, known as rice cake or New Year’s cake in English, is traditionally one of the top desserts during Chinese New Year. Nian gao is a Chinese homonym for “year higher” (年高), which cherishes the people’s wishes of more prosperity in life and success in career year by year.

Made with glutinous rice flour, it was originally yellow and white, symbolizing gold and silver, but modern-day rice cake has developed into an even more colorful festive food.

Ways of making the rice cake vary. In northern China, it is steamed or fried, both sweet, while in southern China, rice cake can be steamed with osmanthus and rosepetals as a dessert, or cooked with vegetables and meat as savory cuisine.

As with nian gao, other cakes like fa gao and sponge cake are also popular during Spring Festival, with the associated wish for good fortune and success.

Our Guilin, Yangshuo and Longsheng tour is ideal for trying out various types of New Year’s cakes.

Ⅱ. Tang Yuan: Family Reunion

  • Chinese name: 汤圆 tāng yuan or 元宵 yuán xiāo

Rice glue balls, symbolic of reunion, are a must dessert for the last day of the Chinese New Year period, the Lantern Festival.

Stuffed with white sugar, rose, sesame, bean paste, walnut kernels and more, rice balls are round dumplings made of glutinous rice flour served in soup. Ways of making and naming them, however, are different in the north and south of China.

In southern China, rice balls are known as tang yuan 汤圆, literally “soup balls” in English. The preparation process is similar to that of ordinary dumplings:

  • 1. Put flour into a bowl, then add water and knead it into dough.
  • 2. Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl. Set that to one side.
  • 3. Take a small piece of dough and squeeze it into a round-shaped slice.
  • 4. Place 1 spoon of the filling onto the center of the round and wrap dough around the filling.
  • 5. Roll the dough with filling between your palms to form a smooth round ball.
  • 6. Put tang yuan into boiling water and boil until they float.

In northern China, rice balls are called yuan xiao 元宵. In contrast to tang yuan, yuan xiao start with the filling:

  • 1. Stir the stuffing and spread it into a large round slice.
  • 2. Cut the stuffing into cubes the size of table tennis balls.
  • 3. Mix glutinous rice flour with the stuffing cubes and shake until rice balls are formed.
  • 4. Put yuan xiao into boiling water and boil until they float.

Of course, quick-freeze rice balls can be bought from supermarkets and shops. But do you want a tangyuan/yuanxiao experience just for you? Please feel free to tell us your travel ideas!

Ⅲ. Fruit Platter: Full of Blessing

  • Chinese name: 果盘 guǒ pán

Preparing a colorful fruit platter full of blessing is a common thing to do for guests at Chinese New Year.

  • Kumquats – 金桔 (jīn jú), 桔 jú sounds like 吉 jí in Chinese, which means good luck and auspiciousness. In southern China, especially in Guangdong, at least two pots of kumquat trees are placed at the front door and on the balcony of every household, with red envelopes hanging on the branches.
  • Apples – 苹果 (píng guǒ), 苹 is a Chinese homonym for 平, which means safe, so apples represent safety and health.
  • Persimmons – 柿子 (shì zi), 柿 sounds the same as the word for yes in Chinese, so this fruit has the meaning of “may everything turn out as you wish”.
  • Peaches – These are said to be the fruit of gods, symbolizing longevity and health.
  • Grapes – A bunch of grapes symbolizes continuous luck and happiness.
  • Pomegranates – There are many seeds in pomegranates, conveying the meaning that generations of offspring will fill the house (formerly regarded as a sign of prosperity).

A fruit platter will sometimes be mixed with dried nuts such as peanuts, dried longans, red dates, baked seeds and more, with their own special auspicious meanings. You can join our Half Day Hutong Pedicab Tour to see a real New Year Fruit Platter prepared by a local family.

Ⅳ. Sweets: Happy and Sweet Life

Serving sweet snacks brings a happy and sweet life in the New Year, but different areas of China have different traditional handmade sweets for Spring Festival.

1. Shandong: Sugar Melon

Sugar melon (糖瓜 táng guā) is a unique sweet snack in the countryside of the central region of Shandong Province, only making an appearance during the Chinese New Year period.

People first boil yellow rice flour and malt sugar into a batter, then beat and stretch the batter into a pumpkin shape before it cools, and finally roll with sesame and shake to form a sugar melon. It is a crispy, sweet snack especially loved by kids.

2. Beijing and Tianjin: Sachima and Mahua

Sachima (caramel treats, 沙琪玛/萨其马) are sweet (Manchu) pastry popular in Beijing. They are made of fried strips of dough coated with syrup, pressed together, and cut into blocks.

Tianjin is known for its mahua (麻花 má huā), or fried dough twists, the best-known of which are from 18th Street (十八街麻花). They are made of two big, thick dough strips, filled with tasty ingredients including osmanthus and other nuts, and fried until golden.

3. Jiangsu and Zhejiang: Crunchy Rice Candy

Crunchy rice candy (糖米 táng mǐ), a special refreshment in Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces, is made of glutinous rice fried with tea-seed oil, sugar, sesame and osmanthus.

4. Fujian: Crunchy Peanut Candy

How to hand-make crunchy peanut candy (贡糖 gòng táng):

  • 1. Grind peanut kernels with a stone mill;
  • 2. Mix some peanut powder with malt sugar and roll out a rectangular wrapper;
  • 3. Mix the rest of the peanut powder with sugar as stuffing and put it in the middle of the wrapper;
  • 4. Roll the wrapper and press into a compacted strip;
  • 5. Cut the strip into small three- or four-centimeter pieces and finally wrap them in red paper.

5. Hunan: Ginger Candy

Ginger candy (姜拉糖 jiāng lā táng) is a handmade snack in the west of Hunan. It perfectly combines ginger juice and maltose. People believe that eating a piece of ginger candy after a rich meal can help to promote digestion.

6. Guangxi and Guangdong: Sugar Rings

Sugar rings in southern China are just as important as fried dough twists in northern China. These flower-shaped fried sweets are made of wheat flour, egg and sugar, especially popular in Guangxi and Guangdong Provinces.

Tasting Desserts and Snacks with China Travel

In addition to those mentioned above, there are many other traditional desserts and snacks during Chinese New Year, for example: deep-fried sesame balls (麻球 má qíu) in Guangzhou, eight-treasure rice pudding (八宝饭 bā bǎo fàn) in Hangzhou, glutinous rice dumplings (粽子 zòng zi) in Guangxi, etc.

Do not hesitate to contact us when you want to come and try some!