Chinese New Year snack foods demystified + laughing sesame ball cookies recipe 笑口棗

Chinese (or Lunar) New Year is the most important festival in China that’s also celebrated throughout many Asian countries. It’s a time for family reunion, which also means indulging in a lot of scrumptious food. It’s customary to visit the family’s elders during this time. The children (and single folks) would greet their elders with traditional, lucky phrases and would receive red pockets, or lucky money in return.

I vividly remember dressing up in my spanking new clothes to visit my grandparents as a kid. Although collecting red pockets was fun, I was more excited by the bounty of food that my grandmother prepared. Sweets and deep-fried snack foods were the most popular items and I stuffed my little face with them all.

Chinese New Year snack foods demystified by Melody Fury

Traditional Chinese New Year snacks

My family still celebrates Chinese New Year but not as formally as we used to. We no longer get lucky money and simply exchange hugs and wishes to good health. One tradition that still lives on is my parents would still stock up on the delicious snack foods that I loved growing up.

You may have seen these goodies at Asian markets around mid-January. If you’ve never tried them, do so in the year of the rabbit! To make it easier, I’ve even demystified some common Cantonese ones for you.

For the braver souls, I’ve included a recipe for the quintessential “laughing sesame ball cookies” below. Fried cookie is a glorious thing, people. Happy New Year, everyone!!

Candied Lotus Seeds - Chinese New Year snack foods demystified by Melody FuryCandied lotus seeds 蓮子 – the Chinese pronunciation “lian zhi” is homonymous to the phrase “connected with children”, symbolizing having a long line of off-springs.

Little Horns - Chinese New Year snack foods demystified by Melody FuryLittle horns 角仔 – deep-fried, crunchy pleated pastry filled with sweetened ground peanuts and toasted sesame seeds

Cow Ears - Chinese New Year snack foods demystified by Melody FuryCow ear cookies 牛耳酥 – hard, crunchy cookies with a savory swirl of fermented red bean paste. These are ridiculously addictive.

Chinese New Year snack foods demystified by Melody FuryTaro fritters 酥炸芋蝦 (upper right) – taro root shoestrings are dusted and deep-fried into crunchy fritters, then seasoned with salt and a touch of five spice

Laughing sesame ball cookies - Chinese New Year snack foods demystified by Melody FuryLaughing sesame ball cookies 笑口棗 – deep-fried cookie balls rolled in sesame seeds. The cracked cookie looks like a laughing head (or Pacman), symbolizing laughter in the new year.

Laughing sesame ball cookies 笑口棗


  • Flour – 500 g
  • Granulated Sugar – 180 g
  • Vegetable shortening or lard – 50 g
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbs baking powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • Cold Water
  • White sesame seeds, untoasted
  • Oil for frying


  1. Cream shortening and the sugar with a whisk. Add the egg and whisk until smooth.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients together onto a board. Create a well by making a hole in the center. Pour in the egg mixture and add the water slowly. Incorporate the dry and wet ingredients slowly until the dough forms. Add more water as necessary.
  3. Wrap the dough up and allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  4. Cut the dough into sections and roll into long tubes. Cut each tube into pieces and roll into balls around the size of a large marble. Immediately roll the dough into the sesame seeds to coat completely. Meanwhile, bring oil (at least 5 inches deep) up to 350°F in a pot.
  5. Deep fry the cookie balls in batches, making sure not to crowd them. Roll them around in the oil to ensure even frying. Right before they reach golden brown, remove them and drain on a rack or a paper-lined baking sheet. They will continue to colour as they cool.
  6. Serve with tea and other Chinese New Year goodies when thoroughly cooled (so that they crisp up).

Yields: 75-100 cookies

  1. January 30, 2011 by jen

    Thank you! I adopted my dd’s from China. We celebrate CNY and I’m always seeking out authentic family recipes to help us create our own family traditions.

  2. January 31, 2011 by munchkie

    ooh drooool… look at all those deep fried goodies! thx for the recipe, melody :) i really have to try it out before the new year. lol, and i’ve never noticed that those little sesame balls look like pacman. good observation!

  3. February 04, 2011 by Bonita

    Yum! I love 笑口棗! Definitely making these when I move into a place that has a vent over my stove to suck out all that grease.

    Gong hei fat choy to you and yours Mel! May you have a happy, healthy, prosperous and successful year!

  4. February 09, 2011 by Liv

    that’s so cool you described all of these in detail. I’m chinese and I get them all confused all the time!

  5. February 23, 2011 by Min {Honest Vanilla}

    the sesame balls caught my eye, can’t help it! love this post, even though it’s after Chinese New Year now :P

  6. November 13, 2011 by Cleo

    I just watched Two Fat Ladies make an anglo version of our cow ear cookies with anchovy and mustard swirl, calling them Gentlemen’s Dainties. 

  7. November 13, 2011 by Melody Fury

    Hey that’s a really cool tip. It’s been ages since I’ve watched that show. Thanks for dropping by!

  8. February 10, 2013 by ms y

    The sesame ball cookie recipe did not work for me… it expanded too much and it was soaked with oil despite leaving it on paper towels.

  9. February 11, 2013 by Melody Fury

    I’m sorry about that – what a bummer! A lot of things could have contributed to it, including oil temperature and atmospheric humidity. Next time, I suggest using less baking powder? I hope it works better for you!

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