Chinese New Year is only five days away and many of us Foodies have already hand made or stocked up on our Chinese New Year Pudding. Along with the tradition of wearing new clothes to symbolize a new start and fresh hopes for the coming year, we also look forward to eating some yummy traditional Chinese New Year food. Several of the favorite Chinese New Year dishes are puddings or cakes of some kind, since the Cantonese word for “cake” has a similar pronunciation as the word “high” and is symbolic of prosperity and “rising” fortunes.

Most westerners anticipate sweet and sticky confections when they hear the word cake or pudding, so it will come as a bit of a shock to find that not all Chinese New Year Puddings are sweet, and some of the favorite “cakes” are savory dim-sum type foods, with just an element of sweetness. Let’s have a closer look at some of the Chinese New Year puddings you can expect to find in restaurants across Hong Kong and in Chinatowns worldwide.

1. Nin Gou

This is probably the most definitive Chinese New Year Cake (and this one is a “proper” cake by western standards, featuring plenty of sugar and no savory elements). The cake is a delicious mixture of glutinous rice flour, corn flour, sugar and coconut milk which is steamed in a wok (or steaming oven) and then decorated with dried dates and sesame seeds. The cake is traditionally left to firm up for a few days and then sliced, dipped in beaten egg and fried in a pan to produce a delicious crispy crust. Of course, if you just can’t wait you can eat it straight from the steamer!

2. Turnip Pudding 

Turnip Pudding

Popular year round, turnip pudding is made using grated Chinese white turnip (diakon), rice and wheat flours, Chinese dried sausage and seasonings. The “cake” is steamed in a cake tin in the wok or a steamer oven and then cooled for several hours before being sliced and fried on both sides until crispy. It is delicious served with sweet chili sauce, XO sauce or just a drop of soy sauce.

3. Water Chestnut Cake

Although it is widely available as a sweet dim sum all year round, when the Lunar New Year approaches many of us like to make our own home-made version as part of the festivities. Once again it is a sweet steamed cake made with water chestnut flour, corn flour, sugar, water and fresh or canned water chestnuts. This is a fragrant and delicate cake that can be sliced and served warm or cooled and then lightly fried.

4. Taro Cake

Taro Pudding

Another pudding which is also eaten all year round, it is very popular at Chinese New Year. This delicious savory “cake” is made with taro yams, dried shitake mushrooms and Chinese dried sausages. It is seasoned with dried shrimp, five-spice powder and a little chicken stock and then steamed in the wok or steamer oven and served hot. If you have any left-over cake (unlikely!) you can slice it and fry for a delicious snack.

5. Dates Pudding

Red Date Pudding

It is a sweet Chinese New Year treat made with Chinese red dates (aka jujubes) and chestnut flour. It is also steamed and served sliced, garnished with a red date.

A big bonus is that most of these delicious Chinese New Year treats contain no wheat flour and are suitable for people on a gluten-free diet.

Celebrate and let your bellies be filled with lots of delicious food. Hong Kong Foodie wishes everyone a healthy and happy Year of the Rat!