The History Behind Your Favorite CNY Goodies

Most Chinese New Year treats are typically devoured without a second thought, but they actually have more meaning than you might realize. Discover the histories behind some of these foods to learn how they were inspired by a variety of things, such as Chinese auspicious beliefs, Malay and Peranakan culture and epic love affairs.

Not just the Chinese but also the Vietnamese, the Koreans, and other ethnic groups who historically used the lunar calendar celebrate Lunar New Year all across the world. They all share the fact that the holiday season is a time for feasting and gatherings.

The Chinese particularly enjoy tinkering with words and symbols. The meaning of some Chinese New Year goodies is frequently given by homonyms (words with the same pronunciation but distinct meanings), while others have symbolic significance due to their likeness to objects like gold bars or ingots. Here, we explore some of the most intriguing tales associated with our favorite New Year’s goodies. 

  1. Pineapple Tarts

The king of all Chinese New Year treats is this festive delight. These sweet treats would not be missed by any home during CNY. These bite-sized tarts, which embodies Singapore’s multiculturalism, are made by blending a sweet, caramelized pineapple pulp with a buttery foundation. 

Its paste is of Nyonya ancestry. Pineapple actually signifies “Fortune Come” in Hokkien (Ong Lai). As a result, those who eat the pastries are said to flourish and be lucky. The buttery paste, on the other hand, seems to have come from the West and recalls the British and Dutch colonial eras of Southeast Asia. The Peranakans were influenced by the Portuguese immigrants’ famed tarts and pastries, and when combined with the abundance of pineapple farms in the area, pineapple tarts were born. Not only do they bring you luck, they taste extremely good as well. 

  1. Love Letters 

The love letter is undoubtedly one of the most poetic Chinese New Year gifts. These sentimental pastries were once frequently used by lovers to communicate messages of love, and eating the pastry would indicate that the message had been understood.

People who are familiar with the process of making love letters would describe it as a labor of love. A tiny layer of batter is poured into an iron mold to create these pastries, which are then baked over charcoal. Immediately after that, it is removed from the heat and rolled into a cylindrical shape.

These delicate pastries, also called “Kuih Kapit,” are claimed to have been influenced by the typical Dutch waffles.

  1. Honeycomb Crackers

The Rosette biscuits from Scandinavian nations like Sweden and Norway are actually what gave rise to this dish that appears to be Asian. In the Asian variation, coconut milk is added on top of the flour, sugar, and eggs. Additionally, as you might have guessed, eating this dish represents a sweet year to come. Indulge in these sweet treats for an even sweeter year ahead! 

  1. Prawns Rolls 

Eating prawns at Chinese New Year symbolizes happiness since the Cantonese word for prawn is “ha,” which makes the sound of laughter. The golden hue and form are intended to conjure images of gold bars.

Shrimps are seen as symbols of happiness and good fortune in Chinese culture, whereas spring rolls, with their golden hue and cylindrical shape, are supposed to represent prosperity. Wrapped in wrappers and fried in oil is dried shrimp sambal (hae bee hiam). 

  1. Kuih Bangkit 

Kueh bangkit, a Peranakan-based Chinese New Year treat, literally means “to rise,” alluding to how the biscuit rises after baking. Kueh bangkit comes in a variety of shapes that reflect numerous meanings. It is crunchy to the bite and rapidly melts in your tongue after. For instance, the chrysanthemum relates to luck and the goldfish denotes riches. Some people also think that eating these tapioca cookies can help you conquer any obstacles in the new year, a play on the name of the dish.

You can probably tell that kuih bangkit is a Peranakan dish because coconut milk is called for in the recipe. Kuih bangkit was actually created initially as sacrificial offerings! They were made in a variety of shapes, including koi fish and different flowers, each of which has its own lucky connotation. 

  1. Arrowhead Chips 

The arrowhead vegetable represents kindness and a good life. For the most enjoyable Chinese New Year, arrowhead vegetables are sliced into thin pieces and fried as chips. Crunchy, slightly salty and all around highly addictive! 

  1. Peanut Cookies 

In Mandarin, the word for peanuts is 花生, which also stands for longevity and good health. The word “life” is included in this word, so when you serve it at your home, you are wishing the recipient a long and happy life. 

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