Happy Chinese New Year!
Unlike years past when I've gone home to Boston, I'll be ringing in the Year of the Sheep (or is it ram, or goat?) here in New York. For most of next couple weeks I will be teaching and catering dinner parties and fitting in a dim sum outing here and there. But last week, I started the eating part a bit early at the WNYC offices in Tribeca with Dan Pashman, host of The Sporkful, in a mini-collaboration project.
While Dan was familiar with many of the traditional New Year's dishes like dumplings and noodles, Chinese desserts were brand new to him, as was the entire concept of dessert soups. So on a snowy afternoon in Tribeca, we tried a few of these desserts from Golden Fung Wong Bakery and Deluxe Food Market.
Here's Dan cutting into the nian gao, the traditional Chinese New Year cake you give to family, friends, relatives, anyone you remotely like.
Nian gao is made from glutinous rice and brown sugar. It's steamed and sometimes topped with extras such as sesame seeds and jujubes. Granted, we didn't have the time or the equipment to pan-fry slices of the nian gao with egg, as the Cantonese usually finish it off, but it was still great as-is. It was the hit of the afternoon. Dan really liked the texture; though it's pretty chewy, the light brown sugary sweetness will have you hooked. And because it's so compact, it also travels well. "A great snack for a plane ride," he noted.
We also ate these laughing sesame balls, which are tiny little fried snacks cut in a way that makes it seem like there's a laughing mouth. Also very addictive...and adorable.
On the other hand, the tang yuan, glutinous rice balls in a sweet soup, were way too hard (now we know not to get tang yuan from Deluxe Food Market), but the sweet soup and the boiled peanuts in them were pretty tasty. Also lackluster was the water chestnut cake, which also had the wrong texture and color and didn't contain any crunchy water chestnut bits (for a better version, feel free to visit my mom's recipe!)
I did, however, take home quite a big piece of the leftover nian gao and some laughing sesame balls and polished them off in a single afternoon. And will likely pick up more for afternoon snacking purposes during Chinese New Year.
Listen to this week's The Sporkful for Dan's Chinese eats around LA, the Notorious MSG's take on the perfect dumplings, and more!