Words: Thomas Tsui 

The Gorgeous Diversity of Chinese New Year 

Firecrackers, red envelope, lion dances, symbolic fruits, blooms of flowers, festive foods and boisterous relatives – Chinese New Year can be a full-on sensory experience. From the outside, it might look like another cookie-cutter holiday. Yet the festival is actually celebrated very differently, varying from country to country and from one dialect group to another, with colourful customs and long-observed traditions. The holiday starts on the first day of the lunar calendar, marking the arrival of spring and end of winter with different dates each year.


One of the many differences in celebration is most evident in the food prepared for the big day, and ethnic Chinese take their food seriously.

The Old Market on Yaowarat Road, or Bangkok’s Chinatown, can be difficult to navigate days before Chinese New Year as Thai Chinese in the capital descend into the small alleys flanked by stalls selling fruits, pickles, sweets and anything remotely Chinese. Here, one of the most ubiquitous sight would be khanom kheng, or nian gao as it is called in Mandarin.

The cake is made with glutinous rice and usually comes in a small cup made with folded dried leaves, looking like a rustic cupcake. Khanom kheng is sweet, with brown sugar thrown into the rice flour mix before stemming. The popular type of nian gao in Thailand can trace its roots back to Guangdong, since the majority of Thai Chinese ancestors hailed from the Southeastern part of China, notably from Teochew, Hakka, Hainanese and Cantonese dialect groups. read more