Chinese New Year goodies

Kueh bangkit

The lunar new year is around the corner, which means lots of celebrations (which go for 15 days), primarily through eating and drinking with family and friends.

Leading up to lunar new year, treats are often shared, and this post is dedicated to my favourite Hokkien festive treats of cakes and cookies.

I have three favourites, although there are many more – kueh kapit, pineapple tarts and kueh bangkit.

Kueh kapit

Kueh kapit are delicate wafers that are made from a very thin batter made of coconut milk, rice and tapioca flour, sugar and eggs, that is poured onto cast-iron moulds – etched with graphic and symbolic representations of flowers, birds or animals – and then baked over charcoal.

I used to make them with my family when I was very young.  My grandmother, the expert who would patiently sit over the charcoal with the cast-iron moulds, would pour the batter to make sure the entire mould was evenly coated and check again and again to get just the right amount of colour on the kueh – too light meant the batter was not cooked properly, too dark meant the biscuit would be bitter. Once the batter was cooked she would quickly remove them from the still-hot moulds (she had chef fingers and didn’t seem to ever burn her fingers on the hot iron) and place them on a plate and then get back to battering the mould to make the next biscuit.  Then it was my sister’s and my turn to work quickly while the crepe was still pliable, folding the round crepe into a triangular fan shape.  (We also got to eat the “mistakes” heehee).  It was time consuming and labour intensive, and I have very fond memories of the family bonding while we made these.

Kueh kapit are also called Love Letters, and the history of these is that they were a way for lovers to communicate in olden times – the edible quality of the messages ensured the absence of proof and consumption of the heartfelt message was also seen as a sign that the lover’s words had been taken to heart.

Pineapple tarts

The origins of pineapple tarts is not as poetic as kueh kapit – pineapple in hokkien is ong lai, which literally translated is “prosperity has come”, and serving and eating pineapple tarts is thought to bring good luck and prosperity to the house. Fresh pineapple is grated and slowly cooked over a low heat until it all the sugars have caramelised.  This mixture is then traditionally placed on top of a medallion of butter pastry. Variations have come about where the pineapple is completely encased in pastry – this is the favourite in our house because I think the pastry seems to melt on your tongue before you get to the almost chewy pineapple.

Kueh bangkit

Kueh bangkit – tapioca cookies – are traditional nonya cookies and their history is hard to find.  From what I can gather, they were originally used for alter offerings for the ancestors and/or for the departed to spend in their next life, and hence were made in the shape of the currency of ancient China. Today they are made in various animal or floral shapes with their own symbolic meaning such as goldfish (prosperity), butterflies (afterlife), peonies (faith) and chrysanthemums (fortune). Each cookie traditionally was marked with a red dot, which I would love to know the meaning of, so please, if you know, post the answer in the comments section.

Made from tapioca flour, eggs and coconut milk they are sweet bite-sized morsels that bursts into dry powdery bits when bitten and then immediately melt in your mouth. The perfect kuih bangkit has to be dry and crispy and light as a feather and almost ‘hollow’ sounding when you tap it. Apparently horrendously difficult to perfect, I am quite happy to buy ones that someone has slaved over to make.

Actually, all three of these, as well as most Chinese New Year treats, are all time consuming and very fiddly to make.  I suppose from my experience from long ago with the kueh kapit, the idea is that it is not just about the eating of the treats, but it’s time spent as a family making them and promoting family unity for the lunar new year.  More to come on other food around the new year. Gong xi fa cai !

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About Carolyn Chan

A girl slowly eating her way around Singapore and farther afield when she's lucky. View all posts by Carolyn Chan

10 responses to “Chinese New Year goodies

  • rsmacaalay

    Wow I love those treats, I remember those visits at pasar malam where these things are sold. Yummy!

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  • Goop

    Pretty sure these kuehs are not hokkien. I’m peranakan and if you are too, you’d know that these are malay recipes which still retain malay names.

    • Carolyn Chan

      Hi there – thanks for the correction – my grandmother is Peranakan and also Hokkien so I tend to use the terms interchangeably. Perhaps I need to delve into my own history more 🙂 And you’re right about the malay names – I actually mention them in the post in Malay. Did I get them right ?

  • Jacinta

    Incidentally, your favourites are my favourites too. I have spent the last 15+ years in Colorado and miss the Singapore local culinary fare. My current pang is Kueh Kapit. After several attempts at making it with what I can find here, I’ve discovered that a Krumkake iron makes it closest to the texture that I remember. I am savouring them as I write this. Which is how I stumbled onto this site, while trying to find out why it is called “Love Letters”. I share my successful attempts at work and would like to be able to explain why it is called such. I share them despite my daughter’s protests that no one else can appreciate the labour of love it takes to create them.

    Next up……..Pineapple Tart!

    • Carolyn Chan

      Hi there ! I am so lucky to be surrounded by these treats – I feel for you being so far away…Best you can do is exactly what you are doing – Look forward to hearing updates on your attempts !

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    […] The reality is I want to feel and enjoy the festivity as how I used to when I was young – enjoy the goodies, fun and social gatherings. CNY goodies did not come about just because we decided to feast and eat more during this period. The most traditional goodies actually have a long history and stories tied to them. To better understand the stories that revolve around the top favourite goodies, kueh bangkit, ong lai (pineapple tarts) and kueh kapit, enjoy an easy read at Carolyn Chan’s blog. […]

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    […] The reality is I want to feel and enjoy the festivity as how I used to when I was young – enjoy the goodies, fun and social gatherings. CNY goodies did not come about just because we decided to feast and eat more during this period. The most traditional goodies actually have a long history and stories tied to them. To better understand the stories that revolve around the top favourite goodies, kueh bangkit, ong lai (pineapple tarts) and kueh kapit, enjoy an easy read at Carolyn Chan’s blog. […]

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