Photo: Si Chuan Dou Hua Restaurant
Come Chinese New Year (CNY), your calendars will be packed with reunion dinners, family gatherings and lo hei celebrations at home and at work. Whether you are celebrating at home with the family, or indulging in opulent restaurant meals outdoors, the CNY staples of yu sheng, nian gao, pineapple tarts and more, can get a tad repetitive.
Not to worry, restaurants have been pulling out all the stops to roll out their intriguing versions of these mainstays — whether it is with a local twist or creative concoctions — and the results are often imaginative and delicious.
This year, change things up with this list of unconventional offerings and make them a part of your celebratory meals. From snacks such as pineapple tarts in all sorts of flavours, to dishes that serve nian gao in unexpected ways and unique pig-themed dishes aplenty for The Year of The Pig, inject these into your gatherings for a refreshing take.
1. Nian Gao Tarts
Photo: The Fullerton Hotel
A Chinese New Year staple, the Nian Gao — glutinous rice cake — is usually served simply steamed or pan-fried and it is a symbol of prosperity for the year ahead. In a bid to make this sticky-sweet dessert easier to serve and eat, Jade at The Fullerton Hotel’s Chef Leong’s creation is the Baked Yam Paste Nian Gao Tart. Here, glutinous rice cake and orh nee (yam paste) are served in a buttery tart shell.
This is a version of nian gao that even kids will love, and each tart comes topped with a sliver of gold leaf for added prosperity. Priced at $7 a pair when you dine-in and S$30 for a box of nine for takeaway via its online shop.
Jade at The Fullerton Hotel is at 1 Fullerton Square, Singapore 049178, tel: 6733 8388.
2. Stuffed “Hong Bao” Buns
You can depend on pastry expert, Chef Pang of Antoinette to come up with Lunar New Year specials that are classic French meets modern Singaporean. The Hong Bao ($10 small, $25 large) which at first glance looks like a red-hued crusty bun, is actually a lightly-sweetened bouncy and chewy bread which is a combination of the French poolish bread and Japanese water roux bread — the red tinge lent by dragon fruit juice.
Cut it open to reveal a centre filling of mochi (to mimic nian gao) flavoured with black sugar and fried shallots, candied yam and sweet potato, pork floss and salted egg. The sweet-savoury flavours, and the pillowy bread that holds these delightful flavours within, make this a winning CNY treat.
Antoinette is at 30 Penhas Road (off Lavendar Street), Singapore 208188, tel:6293 3121 and Mandarin Gallery #02-33/34, 333A Orchard Road, Singapore 238897, tel: 6836 9527. For more information, visit here.
3. Purple Sweet Potato Chiffon Cake
Another winner from Antoinette’s kitchens is the Abundantly ($38). This special CNY cake is a light-as-air purple sweet potato chiffon which is topped with a black sesame peanut feuilletine and an ‘icing’ of salted cheese cream that flows abundantly when the plastic lining is lifted — symbolising the windfall of prosperity.
Covering most of the sweet chiffon is the tart cream which is further topped with an abundance of prosperous bits like black sugar steeped tapioca balls, lightly candied sweet potato and yam cubes and gold-covered chocolate coin, ingots and fish. There is a lot going on in this dessert, but everything works well together in flavour and texture.
Antoinette is at 30 Penhas Road (off Lavendar Street), Singapore 208188, tel:6293 3121 and Mandarin Gallery #02-33/34, 333A Orchard Road, Singapore 238897, tel: 6836 9527.
4. Creative Pineapple Tarts
Photo: Instagram/ sugarthieves.co
You can never go wrong if you show up at Chinese New Year celebrations with a jar of delectable pineapple tarts, and while traditional is always welcome, how about mixing it up with a variety of new and novel flavours this year.
Sugar Thieves, the dessert parlour on Kreta Ayer Road, has some creative flavours like salted egg, salted egg with mala, double cheese and even hae bi hiam (spicy dried shrimp sambal).
Each jar of 27-28 pieces comes priced from $26 to $32. These are small-batch, handmade creations with real ingredients and explosive flavours (i.e. the salted egg tarts are all topped with curry leaves and crumbly salted egg).
5. Vegan and Diabetic-Friendly CNY Snacks
Photo: Delcie’s Desserts and Cakes
Reunion dinners and CNY visits may be an excuse for everyone to indulge in sweet treats, but those who have specific dietary restrictions are usually the ones feeling left out. Not if you stock up on Delcie’s Desserts and Cakes’ Lunar New Year treats.
Their Mini Pineapple Tarts ($35 for 65 pieces) are vegan (free of eggs or dairy) and diabetic-friendly as they are free of refined sugar, and made with a combination of wheat and rice flour.
They also have a gluten-free White Almond Cookie ($28.80 for a tub) that is low sugar, vegan and melts-in-your-mouth. Orders can be placed online here.
Delcie’s Desserts and Cakes is at #01-83, 34 Whampoa West, Singapore 330034, tel:6282 2951.
6. Chicken Bak Hu Lapis
Choux pastry specialists, Ollella, have a variety of Lunar New Year treats to tempt your guests. Kueh Lapis is one of their specialties and these are made the traditional way from a recipe passed down generations. Their 20-layer cakes come in a variety of flavours, and available in limited quantities this year is the Chicken Bak Hu Lapis ($34 for 350g).
This sweet-savoury decadent treat has halal chicken floss compressed between Dutch butter-rich layers of lapis cake. A sure-fire winner for its unique take on a traditional kueh.
Available at B2 Takshimaya Square, Lunar New Year Fair and https://ollella.oddle.me/en_SG/
7. Oriental Ice-Cream Cake
Here is something to get the kids excited at your annual reunion dinner. Swensen’s has launched a CNY special ice-cream cake called Tong Tong Qiang. The cake itself is a Neopolitan-flavoured ice cream cake which is decorated with auspicious oranges in fondant and an impressive lion’s head in fondant too.
The little one’s will enjoy cutting into this unconventional sweet treat of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice-cream layers. Available at $68.80 per 1kg cake, for dine-in and takeaway.
Swensens is at 180 Kitchener Road, #03-37/38, City Square Mall and other locations.
8. Durian Bak Kwa
Photo: Instagram/ augustgay78
Bak kwa is a CNY staple. It’s the perfect excuse to indulge in the smoky, tender and fatty slices of barbequed meat. Bak Kwa specialists see snaking queues come Lunar New Year, and at Hu Zhen Long, people are queueing for their more unique and exotic varieties, such as the crocodile meat bak kwa, lobster meat bak kwa, and believe it or not — durian bak kwa.
The durian version is pork meat flavoured with actual mao shan wang durians and the fragrance is unmistakably pungent (it is also expensive, at a princely $120 for 1kg). Their lobster meat bak kwa is sweeter than the typical pork varieties and has a slight flavour of barbequed squid.
Amongst these, the crocodile variety has the most familiar flavours but a more chewy mouthfeel. Serve these at your CNY gathering and they are sure to become conversation starters.
Hu Zhen Long is at 14 Sago Street, Singapore 059015, tel: 6324 5825.
9. Uniquely Flavoured Nuts
Photo: Priyanka C. Agarwal
Nuts of all kinds are a typical addition to CNY snack tables. Exclusively available at Takashimaya’s Lunar New Year Fair, Tozai is a brand from Kyoto in Japan specialising in nuts, seeds and tit-bits. Far from run-of-the-mill, their unique offerings will be a fun treat for your CNY visiting guests.
Expect a bright purple-hued sweet potato coated cashew nut that is altogether sweet, savoury and crunchy. There are also wasabi and squid flavoured peanuts and pumpkin and wasabi coated beans for those who want an extra punchy snack. Prices average at $9 for 100g.
Available at B2 Takshimaya Square, Lunar New Year Fair.
10. Savoury Love Letters
Photo: Baker’s Well
Love letters are another often seen as fixture on Chinese New Year snack tables. Usually sweet, and sometimes flavoured, these crispy crunchy rolls don’t often break from tradition. Local bakery Baker’s Well serves a few unique versions that are flavoured with hae bi hiam (dried shrimp sambal), filled with chicken floss and one which is black with the addition of charcoal.
While the charcoal does not lend much in terms of flavour, both the hae bi hiam and floss flavours are welcome changes for their more savoury renditions to this popular snack.
Available at B2 Takshimaya Square, Lunar New Year Fair and online.
11. Auspicious CNY Cake
Photo: Goodwood Park Hotel
Goodwood Park Hotel’s Drum of Fortune金鼓迎财 is an impressive addition to any dinner table. The 1.3kg confection is completely iced in red and gold fondant and topped with eight lucky Mandarin oranges made with dark chocolate and mini chocolate ingots. However, when you cut into it you will discover a good ol’ chocolate marble cake that will be a hit with all ages.
Available for takeaway at The Deli, Goodwood Park Hotel, 22 Scotts Road, Singapore 228221, Call 6730 1786 or email email@example.com to order.
12. Flavourful Peranakan Dishes
Photo: Destination Singapore Beach Road
Unless you are Peranakan, the dishes available on Folklore’s CNY menu may be unique additions to your festive table. If you are, some of these are long forgotten recipes using rare and heritage ingredients that may make worthy conversation starters at your reunion meals. All of the dishes are available for dine-in and takeaway.
The Peranakan prawn salad ($20), which was served in place of yu sheng at Folklore’s chef Damian D’Silva’s home is a refreshing starter of halved poached prawns topped on a cucumber slices and Chinese lettuce drizzled with chilli plum sauce and lime juice.
Then there is the stellar Sayur Beremi ($16), a chilled salad of the mildly bitter Indonesian leafy vegetable, tossed in a tamarind, coconut and chilli dressing served with poached prawns, sliced raw onions, fresh chillies and heaps of fried shallots.
Something with pork for the year of the pig? The Sayur Kailo ($32) is a pork rib curry with moringa pods (or drumsticks) where the pungent, rich and spice-laden curry is beautifully absorbed into the drumstick-like vegetable. Order five days in advance for takeaways.
Folklore is at Destination Singapore Beach Road, Level 2, 700 Beach Road, Singapore 199598, tel: 6679 2900.
13. Meatless healthy feasting
We know it is the Year of The Pig, but what if you have a New Year resolution to keep fit, and you don’t want CNY to get in the way? Enter Elemen’s eight-course meatless (and healthful) menu. You can still treat your family to a reunion dinner that is filling, yet is wholesome and nutritious.
The menu begins with a nutritious Double-Boiled Truffle Soup which has been slow-cooked for over 6 hours with goji berries, monkey head mushrooms, Chinese herbs and truffle shavings.
There is the house-made Soft Edamame Tofu with Pan-fried Oyster Mushrooms, and the Charcoal Yam Ring with Assorted Vegetables that promise detox benefits and is packed with fibre. Available for dine-in only till Feb 19, for $42.80 per person.
Elemen is at #01-75A/76, Millenia Walk, 9 Raffles Boulevard, Singapore 039596, tel: 6238 0511 and two other locations.