Okaerinasai! Oai deki te ureshii desu?
The Lunar New Year is upon us and now is the best time to talk about desserts! Why? Because all across Asia, desserts are traditionally known for their spiritual benefits over after meal dining! Although globalization have changed this perception, the Eastern parts of the world have divided "Western" desserts as fun, and their respective cultures' desserts as enlightment. While not every Asian culture celebrates Lunar New Year, they each have traditional desserts which increases luck and fortune throughout the year!
In the spirit of my Chinese friends and mostly because I'm lazy (hehe ~ ^_^), I have brought the lucky number of eight friends of eight different countries to present eight different lucky desserts of their background culture! Take it away guys!
CHINESE - by Professor Hunter Wu from Shanghai:
"In China, we have many things for good luck in Chinese New Year's. My favorite is called Nian Gao, which is a sticky cake. Nian Gao helps the family life to come together in peace. We also have Zeen Doy, something you may see before in dim sum that are sesame seeded balls. Zeen Doy means prosperity. We all want to prosper. The seeds mean a healthy new future will grow. It is also easy to make at home, so not only is it a favorite in the city, but the countryside like to bring Zeen Doy as well..."
But what about other times of the year?
"...for other times in China we also have the Mid-Autumn Festival. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, the dessert is mooncake. The mooncake is about longevity because it is for the moon goddess. The moon goddess live forever, so she knows the secret to a long life. The mooncake is also about a love story between a god and goddess, and the moon is her beautiful face. So if you eat her face, you will have her pretty face. So for man, a mooncake is for a long life, a woman is for the beauty. The mooncake is good luck for that and also romantic for that."
Thanks Professor! My ex-boyfriend used to stuff me with the goddess' face and now I know why! He wanted me to be beautiful! Next culture please...
VIETNAMESE - by my friend Thinh from Hanoi:
"During Tet* [*Editor's Note: Tet is the Vietnamese word for Lunar New Year] we celebrate with different kinds of banh. For the Vietnamese, we have the green bean banh. That's for friendship with the living and pleasing the dead ancestors. The dead have a lot to do with your luck and fortune, so making them happy means getting good health, good luck and a good year. Green bean banh is not for you to eat, but it is for you to give."
"There is xoi gac. Xoi gac is for good luck in a wedding. You want the couple to have a peaceful life. In Vietnamese marriage, peace is more important than romance. So xoi gac is a gift from the gods to give them everlasting peace."
Thanks Thinh! Xoi gai is better known to the rest of the world as sticky rice. One thing that also needs to be mentioned is that it is characteristically bright red, which is an important color for fortune in Asian cultures. Lord knows a lot of couples in the world could use some everlasting peace!
Let's move on to lucky Thai desserts...
THAI - by my friend Som who is in Singapore but grew up in Bangkok:
"In Thailand, every food, every clothes, every move is about luck. So if you were to ask me what's a lucky Thailand dessert, I would say everything! lol! We like to use a lot of egg yolks for our desserts. Foi Thong and Tong Yod are two famous desserts you have probably tried. The Foi Thong looks like a nest and the Tong Yod is a sweet yellow ball. Both of these help direct the karma into a maximum strength."
Wow, Som. You said everything is a lucky dessert in Thailand. How many others can you name?
"There is Sa Nhae Chan, which help your spirit. There is Khanom Chan, which help your future. There is Tong Ake, which help your love. There is Khanom Thay, which help your health. There is Tua Dam, which help your safety. There is Kanom Pia, which help your family. There is Manted Chuame, which help your protection. There is Bod Mun, which help your happiness. There is Dang Tie Gati, which help your dead. There is Buad Fuk Tong, which help your calm. There is Bour Loy Nam King, which help your father. There is Sakoo Tom Kao Prood, which help your mother. There is Tao Suarn, which help your good heart. There is Ka Noom Nga Dtat, which help your fortune. There is Bor Loy Nam King, which help your sex. There is Gluiy Churm, which help your thought. There is Ka Noom Pan Sungkayha, which help your child. There is Kao Nhiew Dang, which help your money. There is..."
Okay! I'm convinced! Thanks Som! Moving on to their neighbor Cambodia, I'll have my Cambodian friend Myla, who's translating for her mom because Myla grew up in LA. Take it away Myla!
CAMBODIAN - by my friend Myla who's translating from her mom, who is from Siem Reap:
"The Sankhya Lapov is a very lucky dessert in Cambodia. We make it from a pumpkin and mix it with coconut juice. We use it to purify evil spirits during the year or when there are evil spirits happening. The evil spirits are afraid of the pumpkin and the coconut juice. During the Lunar New Year, we also like to eat Khao Lam cake. This is made of a lot of milk, which purifies the soul."
Thanks Myla and Myla's mom! Khao Lam cake is, indeed, very good! Now on to my people, Japan. But since I continue to be lazy...I mean, "busy"...I'll let my cousin Reiko do the dirty work for me. What's a lucky dessert in Japan, Reiko?
JAPANESE - by my cousin Reiko currently living in Osaka:
"Hello [Kitty]! Thank your consideration. In Japan, we eat different kinds of mochi for luck. One is the kagami. When we eat it at New Year's Day* [*Editor's Note: This is the Gregorian New Year's Day], we break it open in half for balance in yin and yang. Another kind of mochi for luck is the kinako, it is a warm dessert that is important to positive karma. Both are extremely delicious and easily found in Japan!"
Reiko, you're the best! Thanks! Since we're on Japan, I wonder what the Korean's eat for good luck. Luckily, I have a Korean coworker who can tell us what's up! Here's her response via instant message...
KOREAN - by my coworker Judy who...never set foot in Korea, but she's Korean:
"Desserts aren't really huge in our culture as it is in other cultures, but we love our fruits. And before you think that's a cop-out answer, fruits are considered spiritual in Korean culture, so they bring luck and they're sweet. Plus all fruit are super healthy. It's perfectly acceptable logic, no?"
Ummm...so, explain which ones give us luck "powers". I'll head on to produce section of the supermarket now.
"Well, during Seollal, which is our Lunar New Year's* [*Editor's Note: Seollal is a different date than the Chinese and Vietnamese Lunar New Year], it's polite to give apples, pears, watermelons, oranges, yuja, kumquat and plums. Fruits symbolizes longevity and fortune, which leads back to ancient folklore when the gods would reward humanity with fruit. So literally, in Korean culture, the tradition comes from the belief that fruit are a gift from heaven. You don't have to make it, you just have to take it. Everything else would be manmade, right? How much more spiritual can you get than that?"
Interesting. I believe you Judy, because you're not a slacker in real life, so I'm thinking that's a solid, honest answer! What's next? India...
INDIAN - by my former roommate Esha who grew up in Bangalore:
"Indians have the biggest sweet tooth in the world, oh my God. Let me tell you. We love the gulab jamun. We eat them in all our celebrations...weddings, during Diwali, anything just give us an excuse. The number one reason Indians eat them is because: they taste great! But if you want a spiritual reason, it is said to harmonize the senses both in the physical and invisible realms. It has a very holy attribute which solves a lot of areas such as sleeplessness, unhappiness, a broken heart, anger, bad luck. Indian food give us a tour back to what makes us happy and gulab jamuns reflect that. This can be said to a lot of Indian foods whether it is desserts or otherwise."
Cool beans! I especially liked the part where Indian chefs are tour guides. Who needs psychologists and therapists? Cooking solves all problems! Now there's one more culture that wants to speak out...this is from my friend Derek Cheng from my hometown of Arcadia. He grew up in America and never left the country. What lucky dessert can he possibly turn out?
ASIAN-AMERICAN - by my friend Derek Cheng, who is from California:
"I know many Asians scoff at the idea of Asians growing up in the States. I'm third generation, proud to be Asian, but I don't know anything else but Captain Crunch and NBA basketball. But you know what? Asian-Americans came up with a good luck Asian dessert too. Wanna know what it is? Yeah, I'll tell you. It's the fortune cookie, baby. ABC's like me made it right here in San Francisco many centuries ago during the railroad era. What's so special about fortune cookies? How can it help your life or balance your karma or ward off evil spirits? Well, it doesn't do any of that, but what it does do is give you the winning lottery numbers, and nothing solves your problems like a whole crapload of money! Yeah! On behalf of Asian-Americans, you're welcome!"
And there we go! We've covered full circle! Thanks Derek!
Asians desserts and superstitions, they go hand-in-hand! Myself? I subscribe to the good fortunes of Pinkberry yogurt. Whatever toppings I end up choosing, I know I'll feel it's a lucky day. Heehee!
Well, I hope you enjoyed another segments of Desserts. I know I didn't do most of the work in this article, but come back in 15 days when I'll be talking about...well, you'll just have to find out!
Until then, atatakai mina ni taizai! Douka odaijini shite kudasai!!!!!!! ^_^