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celebration and remembrance

Recipe: chinese eight treasure rice pudding

I really loved reading about your valentines. There were lots of husbands, some wives, partners, lots of moms, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, children, pets, friends. It’s incredibly gratifying to see all of this love and appreciation for the special people in our lives. So thank you for sharing with me and with everyone else. Now on to the winners! Jeremy picked our winners at random, but his method was a little more cerebral than Kaweah’s selection style. I’ll let him describe it for you:

Two winners were selected using the least significant digits of the coordinates of water discovered in the Antennae Galaxies (Brogan, Johnson, & Darling 2010). The water seems to mark the birthplace of massive clusters of new stars created by the collision of two galaxies. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, and our nearest large neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy, will likely experience a similar fate in several billion years.

the antennae galaxies (image by the hubble space telescope)

The winners are commenters #97 (Sheryl) and #335 (Megan F.)! Congratulations ladies! I’ll be in touch with you via email to get the shipping addresses of your intended recipients. And a huge thank you for all of your enthusiastic entries. I love you guys! Even if you didn’t win, I highly recommend these chocolate truffles – they are beyond exquisite.


Sunday, February 10th is the new moon and the Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year. I can close my eyes and recall vividly the sounds, sights, feelings, and smells of the kitchen where my parents and grandmother sat together to make dumplings on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Other special dishes were cooking on the stove, plastering steam on the windows and filling the house with aromas of the feast to come. I especially enjoyed running around the next morning and wishing everyone gong xi fa tsai (wish happiness and make money) or just gong xi gong xi (congratulations). Very few of my friends celebrated or were aware of Chinese New Year and so in many ways, I felt it was my family’s personal holiday.

When I went away to college, I was surprised to see Chinese New Year is indeed a big deal to A LOT of people in Southern California as well as some of the student body at Caltech. In my junior year, I called Grandma and asked her how to make Chinese dumplings and potstickers. The new year was approaching and I was feeling a little homesick. I began to pay more attention to our family traditions (mostly food) and fed them to Jeremy and friends throughout the years.

My sister didn’t share my interest in the lunar new year traditions until she had her son. After he was born, Kris suddenly became quite proficient at spoken Mandarin, began to read a little Chinese, and spoke Chinese with my nephew. It delighted my parents, my aunts, my grandma, family friends… And it melted my heart every time he called me A-yi (auntie). Without fail, my workaholic sister would call me up on Chinese New Year’s Eve every year to consult on what she needed to purchase or prepare for dinner. Dumplings? Noodles? How about a stir-fry? Don’t forget something sweet for the next morning. You see, you don’t eat just any Chinese food for Chinese New Year because everything has meaning for luck, prosperity, a promotion, good health, happiness, abundance, family, wealth.

The last time I saw Kris was over Chinese New Year. I had guilted her into flying out to California to meet me at Grandma’s place for a quick weekend trip. She was pregnant with her little girl and I almost felt bad about making her travel, but I knew the chances of seeing her and Grandma together decreased with every day she became more pregnant. Grandma made us sweet soup, took us to a New Year’s party (it’s not what you think – everyone there was Chinese, over 70, hard of hearing, and tone-deaf, but it was very entertaining), ordered our favorite dishes, and laughed at our dumb jokes.

I look back on that Chinese New Year with deep longing because both my sister and grandma have since passed on.

Chinese New Year is a time of celebration, but it is also a time of remembrance. I was only familiar with the celebratory side of things as a child. Now, I understand that we honor our ancestors and loved ones who are no longer with us and we embrace the loved ones we still have. For all of the rushing around to gather ingredients and make the right dishes to ensure good things in the new year, there can be a pang of sadness, sometimes a flood of unexpected tears, and a quiet heartache. Sure, we focus on the foods during this holiday, but really – the food is about family. Chinese New Year is all about family.

And food.

Food, family – they are inextricable.

A popular traditional dessert served at Chinese New Year dinners or other special occasions is Chinese eight treasure rice pudding. Now before you get excited about rice pudding, it’s not THAT kind of rice pudding. It’s a combination of sweet rice, also called sticky rice or glutinous rice (it contains no gluten), sweet red bean paste, dried fruits, and a sweet syrup. And there should be eight kinds of fruit because eight is a lucky number. You don’t HAVE to have eight, but if you choose to make a lucky dessert versus regular dessert, why not go for the lucky dessert?

sticky rice, sweet red bean paste, sugar, cornstarch, shortening or lard, lemon juice, dried or candied fruits

glutinous, sticky, or sweet rice – (glutinous rice has no gluten)

mango, dates, lotus seeds, maraschino cherries, goosberries, buddha’s hand citron, kumquats, apricots

Typical fruits include dried dates, candied cherries, lotus seeds, dried raisins… but you just use what you like or what you have available. I went to the big Asian market to hunt down candied lotus seeds, candied gooseberries, and candied kumquats. The rest of the items I got at the western supermarket or had made (like the candied Buddha’s hand citron). You can also use candied ginger, dried papaya, dried pineapple, winter melon candy (it’s a Chinese thing – it’s green and typically comes in strips), candied orange peel, dried cranberries, raisins. Endless possibilities.

slice up the fruits

arrange the fruit in a nice pattern

The point is to make a pretty floral-esque pattern with the fruits. Do this by arranging the inverted fruits on the inside of a bowl. I’ve seen some recipes recommend that you grease the inside of the bowl, perhaps for ease of release. I didn’t bother with that. And the recipe I list here calls for lard or shortening. I really dislike shortening, but couldn’t find lard. You don’t want to use butter as it imparts the wrong kind of flavor, so I went with shortening. It’s just a little bit that gets mixed in with the hot cooked rice and some sugar and water. Layer two-thirds of the rice over the fruits to create an inner shell of sticky rice nested in the bowl.

mix the hot cooked sticky rice with water, sugar, and shortening (or lard)

line the bowl with rice taking care not to mess up the fruit pattern

If you aren’t familiar with Chinese sweets and desserts, sweet red bean paste is quite popular. I guess it’s like the chocolate of the Chinese dessert world, except we all know it’s nothing like chocolate. You can find sweet red bean paste in almost any Asian grocery store. This is the filling for pudding. Place the rest of the rice over the sweet red bean paste and press it all down nice and tight. It helps to wet your hands with water when touching the sticky rice (it’s sticky, see).

fill the well with the sweet red bean paste

cover with the remaining rice

press it down tightly and flatten the top with wet hands

Steam the rice pudding (the bowl is uncovered) in a steamer or on a rack in a large pot with a few inches of boiling water and the lid on for an hour. If you make small, individual puddings, you can steam for less time (like 30 minutes). While you wait for that to finish, you can make the simple syrup. When the pudding is ready, carefully remove it from the steamer. If you didn’t grease the bowl, you may want to run a knife along the edges to help the pudding release. Put your serving plate upside down over the bowl and invert the bowl and plate. I recommend using a plate with a rim to it so that the syrup doesn’t run over the edge when serving. Pour the syrup over the pudding and perhaps reserve a little for each slice.

steam in a steamer or a large pot with a shallow rack and a few inches of water

simple syrup: water, sugar, lemon juice

place a plate upside down over the steamed pudding

pour the syrup over the pudding

It’s a sweet treat, but not too sweet. For those who aren’t familiar with sticky rice, it is both sticky and chewy. Chinese eight treasure rice pudding is good luck because of the number eight and because sweet things are a good way to start off the Chinese New Year. Happy Year of the Snake (my mom’s year)!! xo

gong xi fa tsai! happy new year!

Chinese Eight Treasure Rice Pudding
[print recipe]
from the Los Angeles Times

2 cups uncooked glutinous rice (also known as sticky rice or sweet rice)
1/2 cup hot water
2 tbsps sugar
4 tsps vegetable shortening
1 cup dried fruits of your choice (raisins, golden raisins, papaya, apricots, pineapple, cranberries, mangoes, peaches), seven in total
candied or maraschino cherries (red, you can also add green ones, but definitely get red)
1 cup sweet red bean/azuki paste (or more as needed)

simple syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsps cornstarch dissolved in 1 1/2 tbsps water

Cook the rice according the directions (omit salt if called for) or in a rice cooker. When the rice is done, mix the hot rice with 1/2 cup hot water, 2 tablespoons of sugar and the shortening. Chop any of the fruit up into slices or strips or pieces (depending on how you want to arrange the design). Place the fruit in the bottom of a 5-cup capacity bowl in a pattern to your liking (usually trying to resemble a flower). Line the bowl with two-thirds of the rice, making a layer that is about 1-inch thick and taking care not to disrupt the fruit pattern. Place the sweetened red bean paste into the well of the rice and flatten it. Top with the rest of the rice and then press it all down to pack it tightly. Flatten the surface of the rice with wet hands. Set the uncovered bowl on a rack in a large pot with a few inches of water or a steamer. Steam the rice pudding over boiling water for an hour in a covered pot.

Make the simple syrup: Combine the water, sugar, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. When sugar is dissolves, stir in the cornstarch and water mixture. Keep stirring. When the liquid thickens a little bit and becomes clear again, remove from heat.

Serving: Place a serving plate (one that has a lip so it catches the syrup) face down over the bowl of rice pudding. Carefully invert the bowl and plate. The pudding should release from the bowl. Pour hot syrup over the pudding and serve. Pour more syrup over individual pieces. Serves 8.

28 nibbles at “celebration and remembrance”

  1. Trolleira says:

    Dear Jen, happy chinese new year! And happy snake year, too – it is also my year!

    Gei nin bai nian!

  2. debbie says:

    A Happy New Year to you! Thank you for explaining Chinese New Year….

  3. Kristin says:

    Happy New Year, and thank you for sharing about Kris and your grandmother.

  4. Donna says:

    Happy New Year!

  5. Susan @latenitepho says:

    Beautiful post, Jen.
    Wishing you and your family the happiest of New Years!
    Thank you for teaching us some of your family traditions.

  6. Allie says:

    This post makes me crave sticky rice (and red bean) something fierce! Yum. Thank you for sharing.

    Reading about your family years ago on Chinese New Year felt so similar to this article I read on NYT yesterday about the Chinese-American identity, and also the foods: It’s short and sweet and resonated so much with me as it’s just beautifully written.

  7. @Shopaholicinvan says:

    Gong xi fai cai! Your story of CNY resonates with me as I have come to realize the importance of CNY beyond the red pockets/food that I grew up looking forward to. Your rice pudding reminds me of the one my mom made frequently when I was a child. She is a huge fan of red dates; I like your choices better.

  8. Mary says:

    Happy New Year! Gong Xi Fa Tsai! Wish you and yours good health and much happiness throughout the year!

  9. Julia C says:

    I was seriously just telling myself how much I want this yesterday night! Happy new year!

  10. Brandon @ Kitchen Konfidence says:

    This is gorgeous!! Happy New Year!

  11. Claudia says:

    This is beautiful. Your story, recipe, photos, all of it. Happy New Year Jen!

  12. debbie says:

    Thank you for sharing. So lovely! Happy New Year. It’s always a special time for me as well. My friend adopted a little girl (not so little anymore) from China & it’s always a huge celebration for everyone! So special.

  13. jill says:

    What a beautiful pudding! Thank you for sharing about Kris. What a beautiful memory you have about New Years with your grandmother. Happy New Year!

  14. farmerpam says:

    Thank you so much for sharing not only your recipes, but also your traditions. I am now steaming my last batch of Car SiuBoa. (Wish I knew how to pronounce it…) I’m so glad that I thought to double the recipe… Words can not explain how well loved these little pillows of goodness are in my house. Sublime. I thank you again for sharing your culture, I’m sure your ancestors are proud.

  15. Wen says:

    Happy New Year Jen!
    Thank you for sharing your stories and recipes. Reading your post reminds me of my childhood and I can totally relate to wanting to reconnect with the culture now as an adult.:-) Since my grandma passed away last year I have been trying hard to remember all the traditional food she made. Thanks to you, I can recreate a lot my childhood faves.

  16. Lisa says:

    Happy New Year to you and Jeremy & Kawah. Wishing you all the best. We have sunny Orlando with Joan and Paul.

  17. Abbe@This is How I Cook says:

    Happy New Year! Being Jewish we would say may you be inscribed in the book of life. It looks like that has been taken care of. Thanks, Jen. Love of food and family certainly goes hand in hand. And they certainly make the traditions that bind us.

  18. Margie says:

    Happy New Year, may it exceed all you could imagine. The rice pudding is gorgeous! I love that I can play with food and this beauty congers up all sorts of fun, and yummies, to boot!
    I thoroughly enjoy me a bit of science, too. I am forever amazed. This universe is a marvelous and magnificent neighborhood. :)

  19. mary says:

    Jen –

    All the best to you in the New Year. Enjoyed reading about your New Year’s experience with your family :))
    Definitely want to make your New Year’s dishes they sound very yummy!

  20. selina says:

    Jen, I heart you. I don’t know how you do it – a recipe on rice pudding – brought so many tears as I was reading it. I love the way you show love and honor your sister and family.


  21. angelitacarmelita says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this w/us.. all of it, the beautiful pictures, the story behind Chinese New Year and what it means and for the rememberance…. I wish you luck, prosperity, a promotion, good health, happiness, abundance, family, and wealth this year (or any one of those would be good!).

  22. Linda | The Urban Mrs says:

    How pretty! I think I’ve only tried these for few times and I love it. Thanks for sharing it, now I have an excuse to enjoy this at home.

  23. Arthur in the Garden! says:


  24. TJ (MusiChef) says:

    新年快乐 Jen! It was so heartwarming to read the stories of your family and CNY gatherings. I’m a Korean but we also celebrate Lunar New Year on the same day, and reading your stories brought my childhood memories back – dressing up in traditional Korean hanbok, making meat and scallion pancakes and eating rice cake soup (dduk guk) which is a must have on the New Year’s day. As a kid, I used to believe if I had two bowls of dduk guk each year, I would grow faster and so I had two bowls each year. :)

    thank you for sharing your stories, and your rice pudding looks make me want to try cooking it for next time along with my dduk guk. I recently read a great Memoir with recipes called Music, Food and Love by Guo Yue tell tells the story of the Chinese Cultural Revolution through the eyes of a musical and foodie child. Very inspiring, perhaps, you can publish a memoir of your own with recipes and stories

    Happy New Year!

  25. jenyu says:

    Thank you all for the new year’s wishes! I wish you the very best too. Hugs to all of you <3

    Susan - xo

    Allie - thanks for the link, that was an interesting read. I always find it fascinating to see the similarities and differences in my experiences growing up ABC compared to others.

    Shopaholicinvan - thanks :)

    debbie - awww, that's so great to help her learn her culture's traditions!

    jill - thank you

    farmerpam - yeah, those are some of my favorites!

    Wen - I think we all wish we had asked our grandmas for a few more of their recipes before they passed away, no? So glad to help and share in our reconnection with our culture xo

    Lisa - thanks, mom! xo

    Abbe - what a lovely thing to say. Thank you xo

    Margie - :) Thanks!

    mary - thank you.

    selina - Isn't this part of being Chinese? :) Happy New Year, sweetie xoxo

    angelitacarmelita - thank you and gong xi fa tsai to you!

    TJ - wow, that's awesome and thank you for sharing your traditions! We eat the rice cake too (and it's Korean, not Chinese) for good luck. It's called nian gao which sounds like the Chinese words for higher year :) xo

  26. Amy says:

    Will it still taste good if it’s refrigerated or microwaved?

  27. Amy says:

    And thank you for the recipe! It took me a long time to find the one I liked. :3

  28. jenyu says:

    Amy – yes, you can refrigerate it, but be sure to cover it (so it steams) when you reheat in microwave – or just re-steam it.

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