Lunar New Year

Hong Kong’s latest flavours for Lunar New Year puddings

From beetroot turnip cake, to roselle and guava pudding, local chefs have outdone themselves to create new takes on old celebration classics

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 5:28pm

The word “pudding” means different things to different people. In North America, a pudding tends to be soft and creamy, while in the UK it can be savoury (such as Yorkshire or black pudding), or refer to any type of dessert.

In Hong Kong or China puddings are sweet or savoury, dense and heavy, steamed, and eaten primarily over the Lunar New Year holidays. Classic flavours include the sweet, sticky neen goh made with cane sugar and glutinous rice flour, and flavoured with red dates, water chestnuts and/or coconut sugar, while the most common savoury puddings are made with grated white radish or taro.

Hong Kong chefs are continually coming up with new flavour combinations, and we set out to sample five of them.

Where to find the best Lunar New Year puddings

Ming Court’s rose petal, dark brown sugar, wolfberry and water chestnut pudding

Ming Court at Cordis Hong Kong has a new flavour thatis not just delicious, but also healthy. The combination (HK$268) of the rose petals, dark brown sugar and wolfberries isn’t too sweet, and the addition of water chestnuts gives it a nice crunch.

Crowds prompt Hong Kong bank branch to open early, and it runs out of new notes for Lunar New Year

Chinese executive chef Mango Tsang explains he got the idea to do this combination because Hong Kong people are becoming more health conscious, so dark brown sugar is used instead of cane sugar, which is traditionally used as the main ingredient for water chestnut pudding. Wolfberries enhance the healthiness of the pudding as consuming them is said to improve eyesight, while the rose petals add a delicate aroma.

The hotel also has two, more traditional, flavours available: Tian Shan red date, brown sugar and coconut pudding (HK$238), and abalone, conpoy, air-dried preserved meat and turnip pudding (HK$288).

Ming Court, level 6, Cordis Hong Kong, 555 Shanghai Street, Mong Kok, tel: 3552 3028

Shang Palace’s roselle and guava pudding

Executive Chinese chef Mok Kit-keung at Shang Palaceis constantly thinking up new ideas. This year he looked back on his childhood for inspiration for his roselle and guava pudding (HK$268).

“When I grew up in Sha Tin, my paternal grandfather had fields by the river and along it we grew guava trees. When I was about four years old I would climb up them and pick the ripe guava to eat,” he says.

His memories of eating guava sparked the idea of matched guava with roselle, as both are appetising and slightly sour, and the roselle gives the pudding a red colour that’s ideal for the Lunar New Year.

It’s made by grinding up the guava and straining out the seeds, and steaming the roselle flowers to extract the juices. The ingredients are mixed with glutinous rice flour and sugar. Mok tried four or five recipes until he got the combination right. The pudding isn’t too sweet, and is fragrant from the guava and roselle. A few roselle leaves add a bit of texture to the chewy pudding.

Shang Palace, lower level 1, Kowloon Shangri-La, 64 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East, tel: 2733 8988

Yue’s chestnut pudding

Yue at City Garden Hotel does not disappoint with its latest creation (HK$238). It has simple ingredients – whole chestnuts and chestnut paste, and the Chinese executive chef Lai Ching-shing had many trial runs to find the perfect balance.

“People usually think Japanese chestnuts are the best. But they actually originate from Tianjin, where the chestnuts have better texture and stronger flavour,” says Lai, who buys whole chestnuts from Tianjin.

“We process them ourselves because there could be rotten ones in pre-cooked packages. We put the whole chestnuts in water then throw out the ones that float as they have gone bad,” he says.

The pudding is not sticky like traditional ones, rather, it has a soft mushy texture with pieces of chestnut. The paste adds to the nutty flavour without making it overly sweet.

Also worthy of mention is the hotel’s fresh turnip pudding with morel and agaricus mushroom (HK$268). With a rich earthy taste, this vegetarian option is as flavourful as the traditional puddings that contain air-dried meat.

Yue, 1/F, City Garden hotel, 9 City Garden Road, North Point, tel: 2806 4918

Little Bao’s beetroot turnip cake

We are not big fans of beetroot, but Little Bao’s beetroot turnip cake (HK$178) won us over. It is a striking purplish red savoury cake.

Little Bao chef May Chowdoes not skimp on the ingredients. The taste of beetroot is very subtle and each bite is filled with chewy pieces of Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and shiitake. Although the pudding is a bit on the salty side, yuzu peel has been added to balance the taste.

Little Bao sold a similar version last year, and the recipe has been changed to give it a better texture. “We tweaked the ratio of beetroot to glutinous rice flour so the cake is less likely to crumble,” says sous-chef Sam Ng.

Since no additives or preservatives have been added, the beetroot turnip cake has a relatively short shelf life and needs to be consumed within five to seven days. The chefs had originally planned to limit the number to 100 pieces, the due to overwhelming popularity, have increased the number to 500. It is a great bargain but you will have to act fast to get one.

Little Bao, 66 Staunton Street, SoHo, tel: 2194 0202

Lung King Heen’s chrysanthemum and honey pudding

Chan Yan-tak of Lung King Heen often looks to classic tea pairings for inspiration for Lunar New Year’s puddings. Last year, it was earl grey with sugar cane; this year, it is a chrysanthemum and honey variation (HK$388).

Another key ingredient is longan. All three were selected for their cooling properties as people tend to consume a lot of greasy and fried food during the Chinese New Year celebrations, says Chan.

Of the Lunar New Year puddings we tasted, this is most similar to the traditional versions, except for a strong aftertaste of chrysanthemum. We thought it had a bit too much sugar, but it will satisfy those with a sweet tooth.

Puddings – both sweet and savoury – are usually reheated by slicing them, then pan-frying with a little oil. Chan says, “Our pudding isn’t very hard in texture, so it’s better to dip it in egg before frying it. The safest method is to fry the surface then cook it in the microwave.”

Lung King Heen, 4/F, Four Seasons Hotel, 8 Finance Street, Central, tel: 3196 8880