During the Lunar New Year, desserts can be customary or “cute.”


Every Lunar New Year without fail, Kat Lieu’s mother made her steamed nian gao, which is a sweet rice or mochi cake. It was a tasty tradition to have dessert for breakfast.

The Seattle-based author of the “Modern Asian Baking at Home” cookbook and founder of the online group Subtle Asian Baking is changing things for her 9-year-old son. On the first morning of the new year, he gets mochi waffles with bright green pandan.

“This year I’m going to make the waffles again,” said Lieu, who is half Chinese and half Vietnamese. “I’m also going to make the steamed nian gao and stuff like that, and try to get him to like it more, too.”

Unlike Thanksgiving, when pie is a given in many households, desserts and treats during the Lunar New Year are as varied as the Asian diasporas around the world who celebrate it.

Families from China to the US to Vietnam ring in the New Year on Sunday with customary customs such as lavish dinners and red envelopes of money for children. There will be usual sweet snacks such as nian gao. But in this age of social media, food knowledge and cultural pride, younger generations of Asians are also becoming more inspired to have whimsical and creative dessert courses – from black sesame financiers to peanut butter miso cookies.

In Beijing, residents have flocked to the flagship store of Daoxiangcun, one of the city’s best-known bakeries, for New Year’s-themed desserts, gift boxes in which some pastries were shaped like a rabbit, the animal of the Chinese zodiac.

On Saturday, people lined up in front of the store until 4 a.m. to buy baked goods, an employee said. Even at a less popular branch half a block away, customers still had to wait 40 minutes.

For Lexi Li, it was about bringing a little something to loved ones, even if that meant waiting in line for seven hours in sub-zero temperatures.

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“I’m not really into desserts and pastries, but I just want to take something home as a gift,” said the 30-year-old, who walked out with a stack of eight boxes for friends and family in her hometown of Taiyuan. in Shanxi province in central China.

China is known for its diverse food culture and offers a variety of desserts for the Lunar New Year, usually based on rice or flour. They include tang yuan, which are mochi-like rice balls with black sesame or peanut paste in soup, as well as sesame balls, almond cookies, candied lotus seeds, and greasy gosh – steamed cakes also known as prosperity cakes.

Nian gao remains one of the most popular options. The main ingredient is glutinous rice flour, along with other things like taro, dates, jujube, and red bean paste, depending on the variety. The name is a homonym for “higher year” in Chinese, meaning a more prosperous year and expressing the desire for children to grow taller.

According to Siu Yan Ho, a Hong Kong-based expert, the well-preserved tradition plays a vital role in passing on Chinese culture, as it sustains a food culture that honors grains and reminds people of how to celebrate festivals dating back to the seventh century. in Chinese food culture.

“Food is memory, and this memory is connected to festivals,” Siu said.

In Vietnam, which celebrates the Year of the Cat, sweets also vary by region. Vietnamese people eat nian gao, which they call banh. They also eat che kho gao nep, a pudding made with glutinous rice and a mixture of water, ginger and sugar or molasses. Other treats include che kho dau xanh – a mung bean pudding made with coconut milk and sugar – and banh tet chuoi, a sticky rice cake with bananas.

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“On Chinese New Year, you spend three days visiting family, friends, and teachers,” says Linh Trinh, a Vietnamese food historian who is pursuing a PhD in the subject at the University of Michigan. “So everyone should have a lot of snacks at home so that people can visit and drink tea. It becomes like the pride of the household to serve their traditional snacks.”

More US companies are finding a sweet spot by incorporating elements of the Lunar New Year. Cupcake chain Sprinkles, in partnership with pan-Asian nonprofit Gold House, sells red velvet cupcakes with an almond cookie crust and almond cream cheese frosting. At Disney California Adventure Park, guests can order cheesecake with milk tea and taro mousse.

Judging by the more than 150,000 membership of the Subtle Asian Baking Facebook group, many Asians are more interested in showing off something they made for the holidays than buying it. The community has come a long way since Lieu started it in 2020. For the third year, there has been a virtual Lunar New Year bake-off on Facebook and Instagram where members share photos of stunning macarons, chiffon cakes and other baked goods.

“You are innovating. You bring an appreciation for all these great ingredients,” Lieu said. “And then you make it your own traditions, which is great.”

Kelson Herman from San Francisco made a sourdough boule with an illustration of Miffy, a girl bunny from a popular Dutch children’s book series, for the Lunar New Year. Already an avid baker, the 44-year-old was inspired by seeing what other people were doing online.

“I see a lot of boundaries being pushed, people trying not only to outdo each other, but also to be more creative,” said Herman. “I feel like it always comes down to flavors that evoke family memories. … It could be things that just evoke conversation and family.

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In Queens, New York, Karen Chin made a two-layer cake frosted in coconut buttercream topped with a white chocolate bunny. One layer was vanilla with red bean paste. The other was spiced cake with cardamom and mango curd. It’s a far cry from the fat gee her grandmother makes.

“I told my grandmother that I was going to bake a cake. And she said, “Don’t overcomplicate it,” Chin said with a chuckle.

Still, Chin’s creativity resulted in some special family moments.

“I was so touched because the last time she came and ate something she said, ‘You make great food.’ I was like, “Wow, that’s the first time she complimented me,” said Chin.

Born and raised in Canada but now living in Hong Kong, Sue Ng loves to “treasure” pastries for special occasions. During the pandemic, she found a passion for combining baking and her love of Asian pop culture. Past Lunar New Year creations have included a rolled cake that looked like a White Rabbit Creamy Candy, a Chinese brand as iconic as the Hershey bar.

Ng said that because her two school-aged daughters grew up in Hong Kong, they learned the importance of the Lunar New Year, including the food. But she also likes to throw in something else, like black sesame financiers and salted egg yolk biscuits.

“A Lunar New Year dessert to me is something made with Asian elements with reference to traditionally made goods during this time,” Ng said in an email. “Now we can get creative and make something like nian gao filled cookies and the ideas are limitless! Sweet treats are a must in this day and age as it symbolizes a sweet life.”


The Bharat Express News news assistant Caroline Chen in Beijing contributed to this report.


Tang is a member of The The Bharat Express News’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter @ttangAP.