Tangyuan / yuanxiao, China
What is it?
On the first full moon after Chinese New Year, celebrations go out in style with Lantern Festival, when this sweet soup of glutinous rice balls is served up. The dish goes by different names depending on the region; in China’s south, it is known as tangyuan, while in the north, it is called yuanxiao (also the name for the light-filled Lantern Festival). Family is central to the enjoyment of tangyuan/yuanxiao; in Chinese culture, the balls’ round shape symbolises reunion. The popular dessert is not limited to Chinese New Year festivities; it is also associated with Dong Zhi, a festival marking the beginning of winter, as well a go-to snack year round.
Tangyuan/yuanxiao offers much variety; the glutinous rice balls come plain or stuffed (peanut, black sesame or red bean) and even coloured. Pre-made balls are available from Asian grocers to cook at home, while specialty stores and restaurants dish it up in various fragrant soups, from sweet potato and ginger to brown sugar and pandan. In Hong Kong, the warm dessert is particularly favoured during the cold winter months.
Traditionally eaten at the end of Chinese New Year, my grandmother taught me to make these delicious sweet glutinous rice flour dumplings. Destination Flavour China
Mut Tet, Vietnam
What is it?
Vietnamese Lunar New Year, known as Tet Nguyen Dan, or more commonly Tet, is celebrated over three main days. During this period, candied fruit mut are a must in homes. The sweet snack is offered to guests who stop by, according to tradition, and enjoyed over conversation and a cup of Chinese tea. The warm cleansing drink serves more than one purpose as a foil for the very sweet mut.
Mut are typically purchased from specialty suppliers, who package bountiful, colourful arrays in large, decorative boxes that act as a display. Countless types of mut are available, from the more common to rare. Fruits include coconut, pineapple, apple, orange, star fruit and custard apple; vegetables range from ginger, carrot, sweet potato and water chestnut to winter melon; and seeds consist of pumpkin, sunflower and watermelon. Flower blossoms, such as rose petal and peach blossom, are also prized.
Modern twist, throughout Asia and abroad
What is it?
Lunar New Year goes hand in hand with fruit and sweets. Fresh fruit is an edible allegory for life and a new beginning, while desserts signify sweet fortune for the year ahead. While these classic items still reign, “inspired” auspicious offerings are increasingly sharing the table as food trends from abroad arrive. Take orange macarons filled with tangerine buttercream as an example, a smash-up of traditional lucky fruits and French patisserie. In Chinese, orange and tangerine are homonyms for “gold” and “luck” respectively.
For a twist on tradition (or if you can’t find classic options), create your own fortuitous desserts by using these fruit flavours: pomelo (for status), pomegranate (for fertility) and watermelon or wintermelon (for unity). Or, go for something sweet and red; the colour is ablaze during Chinese New Year festivities and brings good luck!
Discover more sweet Asian eats with Donal's Asian Baking Adventures, double episodes 8.30pm Sundays on SBS Food (Channel 33) with streaming on SBS On Demand.
Illustration by Dawn Tan/The Jacky Winter Group