One of the best things about Chinese New Year is getting to pig out on festive snacks.
This time of the year, bakeries, restaurants and hotels flood the market with goodies. Chinese households stock up on them to serve guests who drop in during the festival. They are also exchanged as gifts.
The snacks used to have lucky meanings. For example, pineapple tarts bear wishes for prosperity, peanuts represent blessings for a son and anything sweet portends a smooth life.
But these days, more attention is paid to how delicious the munchies are. And each year, pastry chefs crack their heads to come up with new flavours to attract customers.
Here are some snacks that have contributed to my expanding waistline in recent days, but are definitely worth the calories.
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1. CRISPY KANGKONG WITH CHEESE AND SOUR CREAM
From: Goodwood Park Hotel
Buy from: www.goodwoodparkhotel.com/promotions/Lunar-New-Year-2020. Collect from The Deli and Min Jiang at Goodwood Park Hotel, and Min Jiang at Dempsey
Available till: Feb 8
This gets my vote for the best new snack for the Year of the Rat.
Kangkong leaves are covered in a batter made of glutinous rice flour, bread flour, self-raising flour, baking powder, water and vegetable oil and deep-fried.
They are then sprinkled with cheese and sour cream powder.
They are super crispy and I love the salty and sour combination of cheese and sour cream. You won't have any trouble getting children to eat these greens.
The only bummer is the price. There isn't very much in a jar and I polished off the contents easily in one sitting.
2. KOPI SIEW DAI COOKIES
From: Mdm Ling
Buy from: Online at www.mdmlingbakery.com or Takashimaya Chinese New Year fair. Call 8468-0201
Available till: Jan 23
Madam Lin's cookies stand out with their perfect texture - super crispy, but not dry. These are also, as the name suggests, not very sweet. Kopi siew dai is Hokkien for coffee with less sugar.
I have been popping them to kick-start my mornings. The burst of java in the mouth is accompanied by the aroma of good local kopi-o.
Everything tastes natural, without any hint of essence or chemical flavourings.
I chase each cookie down with a sip of black coffee and the sensation of it melting in the hot liquid is just bliss.
3. GULA MELAKA TOFFEE CARAMEL COOKIES
From: Peony Jade Price: $38.88
Buy from: Takashimaya Chinese New Year fair. Call 6276-913 or go to peonyjade.com/cny-bountiful-beginnings-2020 for details
Available till: Jan 23
The aroma of gula melaka is so alluring that everyone to whom I passed the tin commented on it.
And the flat and crisp cookie tastes amazing too, as palm sugar has a deeper, more earthy flavour than refined sugar.
Made with ingredients such as egg, butter, coconut, caramel and salt, its only fault is that it is a bit too sweet.
I would suggest cutting down the caramel and boosting the salt. But leave the gula melaka alone.
4. SPICY SHRIMP COOKIES
From: Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy
Buy from: grandmercureroxy.com.sg/public/images/Cny_ order_form_20.pdf. Call 6340-5678
Available till: Feb 9
Taking inspiration from the popular spicy shrimp rolls, the hotel came up with this new snack by taking the shrimp sambal filling and turning it into a cookie.
The fragrance of the herbs and spices hits you the moment you unscrew the lid of the jar. The crisp cookies are spicy and more savoury than sweet.
But because of the heat, I find myself pausing after eating each one. Which is a good thing.
5. LUNAR NEW YEAR EDITION TAIWAN PINEAPPLE CAKES
From: Din Tai Fung
Price: $26.80 for a box of 10
Buy from: All Din Tai Fung outlets except at Bedok Mall
Available until: Feb 8
This pineapple cake is not new, as Din Tai Fung brings it in every year for the festival. It is sold during the Mid-Autumn Festival too, but with different packaging.
Baked at the chain's central kitchen in Taipei, this traditional Taiwanese pineapple cake boasts a buttery pastry that, for me, beats the local pineapple tarts I have tasted this year. It is also better than most of its Taiwanese competitors.
The pastry is moist and soft, yet holds its shape when you bite into it.
The filling has bits of fibre in it which I like, and boasts a good balance of sweetness and acidity.
What I also like is that the cakes are wrapped and sealed individually.