Snacks will keep your guests happy
Chinese Lunar New Year is a time of traditional family values, emphasizing reunions, harmony and prosperity. Visiting family members and friends to offer them best wishes for the new year is part of the nation’s traditions.
Chinese families usually start their Lunar New Year preparations a couple weeks ahead, and stocking up snacks to entertain guests is an important step. Whenever someone visits a Chinese family during the holiday season, the host will present boxes of snacks, pastries and fresh fruit alongside tea.
Buying snacks seems a “no brainer.” But there are ways to do it that not only ensures everyone is happy, but also saves time and money.
Holiday snack preparation should feature a selection of sweet, savory and fun foods that can accommodate different guests effortlessly.
Nuts are among the bestselling items in the Spring Festival celebrations. Traditional must-haves include roasted pistachios, sunflower seeds, peanuts, cashews and walnuts.
The Chinese small walnut-flavored sunflower seeds are a very popular and trending snack. The sunflower seeds are cooked with small walnuts so that they can absorb their sweetness and flavor. The seeds are also easier to eat than cracking and peeling small walnuts.
Other new sunflower seed flavors include caramel, honey butter, green peppercorn, cheese and even tomato and coffee.
Jujubes stuffed with walnuts are a healthier, more original-flavored snack. The pits of the jujubes are removed before they are sliced in half to sandwich a whole raw walnut. Together they create an interesting and contrasting texture as the walnuts add richness and crunchiness to the sweet, soft jujubes. This snack is usually individually packed and convenient to share with family and friends, or carry as an on-the-go energy booster.
Chips will make young guests happy. In addition to classic potato chips, taro and yam chips are also very popular since they are less oily and mild in taste.
Guoba, or rice crust, is a snack made with grains such as rice, millet or mixed cereals. It’s a square-shaped, crunchy chip snack that usually come in spicy, intense flavors.
Meat snacks such as hand-pulled beef jerky from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, dried pork slices, rouzhi (paper-thin pork meat snack) and rouzao (mini sausages) are savory options that can be stored for some days at home.
Traditional Chinese pastries are especially recommended for the holiday season, satisfying not only the sweet tooth but also filling the stomach while lifting the holiday spirit.
Usually in much drier textures, these pastries can last longer than fresh cakes and cookies. Different brands may launch holiday special packages designed for entertaining guests or gift giving.
Yunnan-style rose petal cakes are not just a food for the Mid-Autumn Festival, they are actually eaten all year round and have become very popular outside their origins. The relatively flat cakes have a sweet filling of sugared rose petals in contrast to the flaky and light crust, and the small serving portion make them ideal to serve to guests.
Pineapple cakes are another crowd favorite. The sweet- and sour-flavored cakes are usually individually wrapped and ideal to serve with lighter teas such as oolong and longjing. The price of pineapple cakes can vary, mostly because of the amount of pineapple used to make the filling. The cheaper ones are actually made of flavored winter gourd, while expensive varieties use mostly pineapple. A major difference between the two is that real pineapple filling has a fiber-rich texture.
Classic candies, from the peanuts nougat and preserved plum candy to milk-flavored soft candy and the fancier dragon whiskers candy, are stocked up for the Spring Festival because their sweetness symbolizes a wonderful, lucky year ahead.
Sour-flavored candies such as preserved plum candies or aged tangerine peel candies are very appetizing and have a hint of saltiness. They can be served before a meal to boost the appetite while avoiding the extra sweetness.
Sesame candy sticks are a rural-style fresh candy that are often sold during the Spring Festival. The aromatic and hard candy has a crunchy texture in the beginning but can stick to the teeth later.
For many Chinese, the taste of preserved fruit is part of New Year memories, and preparing a couple of kinds of the snacks makes the holiday more complete. Popular choices of guofu and mijian include various preserved plums, sun-dried tangerine peel, candied ginger and candied Chinese bayberries. They are generally served alongside nuts to balance the richness.
Preserved fruits used to be a highlight of the Lunar New Year traditions, as winter was a time of food scarcity and fruit preserves were the solution to extend the shelf life of perishable foods. Now, as fresh fruits are easily accessible even on the coldest days, as well as raising awareness of health standards and reducing sugar intake, such snacks are gradually being replaced by healthier options.
Freeze-dried fruit snacks are growing in popularity. The more advanced technique of removing moisture from fruits allows more perishable fruits such as strawberries and durian to be fully preserved without the use of honey or sugar. These snacks are crunchy, sweet and healthier compared to fruit preserves, not to mention their brighter, more appetizing colors.
Dried persimmon is a new trend this winter. This classic, northern-style fruit preserve made by hanging fresh persimmons outdoors until dry, and a thin layer of white sugar frost is formed during the process.
Fuping County in Shaanxi Province is especially known for its dried persimmons. The smaller sweet persimmon cakes have a soft jelly-like center and thin chewy skin. But persimmon cakes are very sweet in general and best served with dark teas like pu’er. One method to reduce the sweet taste (but not the sugar content) is to chill the cakes in the fridge and serve as a cold dessert.
Snacks made with hawthorn fruits are more on the sour side — crimson- colored haw roll, soft haw jelly cake, crispy haw flakes or frosting haws (a sugar-coated fresh haw snack that’s popular in Shanghai in winter).
Tea is the preferred drink to serve guests, the hot beverage can warm up the body instantly while the mild flavor is acceptable to most people.
A special tea to try this season is xiaoqinggan, which uses the whole peel of the famous Xinhui mandarin from Guangdong Province as tiny bowls to hold pu’er tea from Yunnan Province, so the natural blend gives the full-bodied pu’er tea a citrusy and floral taste.
There are different ways to brew xiaoqinggan, such as infusing the whole product in water or pour the loose leaves in the pot and then break the mandarin peel in smaller pieces. The flavor may vary depending on the technique so it’s also a fun beverage to explore.
Oxidized black teas such as jinjunmei, dahongpao (Wuyi rock tea)or zhengshan xiaozhong (lapsang souchong) are also popular drinks in winter. It’s important to note that not everyone can get used to “raw” pu’er tea, which doesn’t go through the accelerated fermentation and may cause discomfort in the stomach.
Mandarin oranges are a fruit that most Chinese families display during the holiday season. They are a lucky fruit as the pronunciation of ju is similar to ji, or luck. In Guangdong Province, bright orange mandarins are often placed at front doors during Spring Festival.
Fresh mandarin oranges have a delightful taste of sweet and sour, and the peel is also easy to remove.