While we were in Indonesia a few weeks ago, we visited Jakarta’s colorful Chinatown, where we saw endless displays of Chinese New Year decorations, red envelopes, and packaged foods and gifts. It was a reminder to me that Chinese New Year is right around the corner, and in fact, this year, it’s actually much earlier than it’s been in previous years. This year, Chinese New Year falls on January 25th, which is super early; that’s just a week after my birthday! It reminded me that I want to make some of the traditional new year’s dishes that I skipped making the last couple of years since I was more focused on making Chinese New Year dinner foods, such as spring rolls, noodles, and braised pork belly and eggs. Traditional Chinese (and Vietnamese) New Year treats such as turnip cake, taro cake, and New Year’s glutinous rice cakes are not actually meant to be eaten as part of a formal “meal,” but rather as a snack/small treat when having guests come over for New Year’s red envelope rounds.
In past years, I’ve always made the taro cake because it was my favorite, but I’m considering staggering making different cakes this year just to test new things. I’ve never made the turnip version, so I hope to try that this year. And for nian gao, or new year’s cake, I’m thinking about testing out an iteration that has pandan and coconut as a flavoring. I figured it couldn’t be that original of an idea to apply pandan and coconut to this cake; I quickly did a Google search for it, and there are versions of this cake with these flavors that are made and sold in Singapore. We were so spoiled in Indonesia with pandan and coconut as sweet flavorings in dessert there, and given nian gao is usually such a plain glutinous rice cake, it could benefit from these two additional flavorings.
I also want to test out another version of Vietnamese cha gio, or fried spring rolls. I wasn’t that pleased with the color of the rice paper wrappers when I deep fried them for the first time during Lunar New Year last year, but I’d likely need to invite other people over to eat these since I would not want to eat boat loads of spring rolls on our own.