Chinese New Year Eats

By Jupiter Polevoi

Following the lunar calendar, Chinese New Year tends to fall anywhere from mid-late January to early-mid February. This year it falls on February 1st, and in China you can expect the loudest and prettiest fireworks (to scare off evil spirits), an abundance of red and gold, and most importantly, red envelopes. I’m just kidding, As cool as getting money for doing nothing is, the most important thing about Chinese New Year is definitely the delicious food.

The most popular dish around Chinese New Year is fish. In Chinese culture, fish is thought to bring surplus and fortune. Whether that be money or simply good luck, you’ll almost never see a Chinese New Year feast without fish!

Another Chinese New Year staple is rice cakes. Fluffy and chewy, the symbol for these are to bring a good career and salary. The key to make these super chewy are tapioca flour, and here’s a recipe if you want to make them yourselves!


  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 3½ to 4 cups of water (depending on humidity levels where you are)
  • 4 slices ginger
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar or brown rock sugar 
  • ½ teaspoon allspice powder
  • 1½ pounds glutinous rice flour (one and a half bags, as they generally come in 1-pound bags)
  • ½ pound rice flour (about half a bag)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon dark molasses 
  • zest of 1 large orange
  • 6 dried dates (for decoration, optional)



Prepare two 8-inch round baking pans by brushing the insides with vegetable oil.

Add 2 cups of water and the ginger to a medium-sized pot, bring it a boil, then let it simmer for 10 minutes over low to medium heat with the lid covered. Turn off the heat, and stir in the brown sugar and allspice until the sugar is dissolved completely. Remove the ginger slices. Now add 1 1/2 cups of cold water to cool down the mixture so its warm, not hot.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the two kinds of flours together and then slowly add in the sugar water mixture. Stir thoroughly until the batter is smooth (without any lumps). Now stir in the vanilla extract, molasses, orange zest, and 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil until thoroughly combined. The resulting batter should have a consistency similar to condensed milk. If the batter is too thick, add a bit more water a couple tablespoons at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

Pour the batter evenly into two foil pans. Gently tap the pans against your countertop to get rid of air bubbles. Top each pan with three decorative dates in the center, if using. Put both pans in a double-decker bamboo steamer and steam for about 1 hour on high heat (the water should be boiling, but should NOT be bubbling high enough to touch the foil pans). You might need to add water into the steamer midway to avoid having the water dry up and burn your bamboo steamers.

After 1 hour, poke a toothpick into the rice cake. It’s done if the toothpick comes out clean–just like a regular cake! Regarding steaming techniques, for this recipe and in general, it doesn’t matter what type of vessel you use. The core goal here is to use steam to cook the food, which means it’s important that the steam doesn’t escape.