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By Yannie Chan | February 9th, 2021

Following up on our guide on Chinese New Year cakes and puddings, we now present to you our explainer on the more elusive CNY festive food: a wide assortment of deep-fried goods (油器 “oily tools” yau hay) all meant to bear lucky meanings and eaten during the holidays. These deep-fried goods are essentially variations of the most basic and yet satisfying formula: flour and sugar.

You have likely seen them in traditional bakeries or Chinese grocery stores during the month before Lunar New Year — crispy doughy snacks that come in shapes of a ball, dumplings and even cow’s ear. Read below for the ins-and-outs of the common deep-fried snacks, so you can better pick which one to indulge this holiday season.

Crispy Triangle 油角 yau gork

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Also called crispy pastry dumplings, crispy triangles (油角 yau gork) are deep-fried dough dumplings with sweet fillings. There are two main varieties: the firm and flaky “flaky triangles” (酥角 so gork), and the soft and chewy “red bean soft triangle” (豆沙軟角). “Flaky triangles” are the ones you can find in almost any shop offering CNY festive food, and well-made ones should have a melt-in-your-mouth outer layer, and crunchy peanut, sesame seeds and sugar fillings. These usually come in a clear plastic bag, and are sold in packs of dozen. The “red bean soft triangle” features a deep-fried mochi-like layer, with red bean paste as fillings.

The Chinese characters 油角 sounds similar to a phrase that means “breakout success”, thus symbolizing a successful year where one can be recognized for their talent. When referring to them at a local store, you can also use its nickname 角仔 gork jai “little corner”.

Where to get them: San Lung Bakery 生隆餅家, 68 Pei Ho Street, Sham Shui Po

Sesame Balls 煎堆 jin dui

A round palm-sized doughy ball dipped in white sesame, sesame balls (煎堆 jin dui) are the most commonly-enjoyed CNY deep-fried snacks. It comprises of a thin layer of glutinous rice flour, as well as red bean, lotus or sesame fillings, making it a lovely combination of being sweet, chewy, soft and crispy. A Cantonese saying goes “煎堆碌碌 金銀滿屋” (just as jin dui piles up, gold and silver will pile up at your house), referring to how sesame balls are seen as signs of wealth and fortune.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There are other varieties of sesame balls, with most symbolic being the “dragon lake sesame balls” (龍江煎堆), which is firmer in texture. Some feature a red “crown” on top, called pomegranate flower sesame balls (石榴花煎堆). These are more durable, and so are meant mainly for worshipping Gods and ancestors.

Where to get them: San Lung Bakery 生隆餅家, 68 Pei Ho Street, Sham Shui Po

Sesame Cookies 笑口棗 siu hau jo

Sesame cookies (笑口棗 siu hau jo) are a crunchy, bite-sized sweet snack dipped in white sesame seeds, made simply with flour, baking powder, sugar, and eggs. The Chinese characters translate into “laugh mouth jujube”, and that’s because the cookies expand and crack halfway during the deep-frying process, developing slits that resemble a big smile. Look for ones that are airy and extra “smiley”, as it’s a testament of the baker’s dough-moulding skill. Good ones should break apart once you bite into them, and never taste oily.

Where to get them: Kwan Hong Bakery 均香餅家, 205 Pei Ho Street, Sham Shui Po

Taro Balls 芋蝦 woo hah

In Chinese, the name literally means “taro shrimp” — but there is actually no shrimp at all. These taro balls (芋蝦 woo hah) are taro strips that are deep-fried and formed into a ball during the process. Harder to find because of its labour-intensive making process, taro balls are deep-fried one by one, with the cook rolling the strips in the oil continuously to get the final shape. Compared to the other fried goods, this is a more premium product. You eat it by breaking it apart, or you can munch right into it. Some also like to sprinkle them in plain white congee.

Taro balls (Image courtesy of Pat Chun)

Where to get them: Pat Chun, various locations including 75 Wellington Street, Central, or at their online store here

Egg Twists 蛋散 dahn sahn

These crispy goods is shaped like a ribbon, and have nowadays evolved from a CNY snack to an everyday treat you can find anytime of the year. The story goes that egg twists (蛋散 dahn sahn) came about when a poor family wanted to make crispy triangles but had no money for fillings. They decided to just deep-fried pressed dough, and it turned out to be just as delicious. Egg twists that you can find in bakeries are usually flavored with red bean curd, which gives it a sweet and savory taste. Sometimes you’ll find egg twists on a dim sum menu, but that refers to a variation that softer, fluffier and topped with a thick, sugary syrup.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Where to get them: Kee Tsui Cake Shop 奇趣餅家, 135 Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok

Cow’s Ear Crisp 牛耳餅 ngau yee bang

A nostalgic snack that is very popular enjoyed during Lunar New Year, the cow’s ear crisp (牛耳餅 ngau yee bang) does not contain any cow ear — which you can probably deduce at this point because the Chinese love to name things by something else. Cow’s ear crisps are small, savory biscuits flavored with red bean curd, and gets its name because its curly round shape bears resemblance to cow’s ear. The biscuit is made by swirling a normal dough and a red bean curd-flavored dough together, which creates the signature spiral pattern on the biscuit.

Where to get them: Kee Tsui Cake Shop 奇趣餅家, 135 Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok