A Family Tradition: Eight-Treasure Rice Pudding Recipe
Written by Chowbus Employee, Joy Bian
It’s a familiar scene for many Asian families. Firecrackers detonating. Spring Festival Gala live on TV. Red envelopes given out by elders. Every family member gathered in my grandfather’s house to celebrate the Lunar New Year. And the one special tradition towards the end of the night - no matter how full you are after a sumptuous feast on New Year’s Eve, you’re asked to take at least one bite of the eight-treasure rice pudding, a dessert that symbolizes happiness and prosperity for the upcoming year.
Legend says the dessert was served to honor eight brave warriors who assisted King Wu of Zhou overthrow the Shang dynasty in 1046 BC. It has long served as an exquisite imperial dish until the Qing dynasty. In the early twentieth century, the recipe was leaked out in public when Empress Dowager Cixi fled Beijing in the wake of an external battle.
Ever since, the dessert has remained very popular, especially during festivities like Lunar New Year. In my childhood memory, my mom never failed to remind us of her special recipe for eight-treasure rice pudding. The main ingredients are glutinous rice, red bean paste, sugar, and lard. The eight “treasures” are mainly dried fruits and nuts, which are laid out atop the rice for garnishment purposes. Although the number of “treasures” doesn’t have to be eight - you can decide based on personal preference - my mom insisted on this tradition since the number 8, which sounds like the Chinese word fa, represents prosperity and fortune. In my family, we use jujubes, almonds, walnuts, longan, lotus seed, sliced plums, winter melon candy, and maraschino cherries as the eight treasures.
Experts in folklore studies described eight-treasure rice pudding as a cornucopia, as each one of the treasures has different auspicious indications. To name a few, jujubes symbolize sweet happiness, lotus seeds signify harmonious marriage, and sliced plums represent ease and peace. “Life needs a proper sense of ceremony,” my mom says. Keeping the eight treasures in her recipe is not only about keeping the tradition alive, but also bringing the cultural significance to everyday life.
To make this sweet treat at home, here is my mom’s long awaited recipe. This holiday season, buy your ingredients to start your own rice pudding tradition with grocery delivery on Chowbus.
Serves 6 people - Total Cook Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
1.5 cups of glutinous rice (260g)
2 tablespoons lard
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons of red bean paste (If you like red bean paste, you can add more)
You can alter your toppings based on your preference but here are some recommendations:
1 tablespoon lotus seed
1 tablespoon raisins
1 tablespoon sliced plums
1/2 tablespoon goji berries
1 tablespoon dried longan pulp
1 tablespoon almonds
1/2 tablespoon unsalted raw walnut
Step 1: Soak glutinous rice in cold water for at least two hours, preferably overnight.
Step 2: Drain the water and put your soaked rice into a heat-resistant bowl. Steam it for 30 minutes. (If you do not soak the rice overnight, steam it for 40-45 minutes).
Step 3: While steaming, coat a deep round bowl with a tablespoon of lard evenly. Lay out your dried fruits and nuts in a radial symmetry pattern at the bottom of your bowl.
Step 4: Remove the rice from the steamer and place it in a mixing bowl. Add another tablespoon of lard and two tablespoons of sugar to it and mix them with rice until the rice is thoroughly coated.
Step 5: Fill your bowl with the prepared rice and press it down to make it tight with the dried fruits and nuts. Leave a cavity in the center of the rice.
Step 6: Fill the cavity with the red bean paste. Add the rest of the rice on top of the red bean paste. Make sure you flatten it using the back of the spoon.
Step 7: Pack the rice as tight as you can. Create a pattern of fruits around the outside of the bowl.
Step 8: Place the whole bowl back to your steamer and steam for another 30 minutes.
Step 9: Remove the bowl from the steamer. Place a large plate on top, and flip the combination over. Remove the bowl to reveal this beautiful treat.
Soaking the rice is a necessary step. The longer the rice soaks, the better the texture it will be. The best rice pudding is chewy and soft.
To make the taste sweet but not overpowering, select a mix of your toppings that have both sweet and sourness to balance the taste.
You can also pour syrup on top of your rice pudding when you release it from the plate if you want your pudding to be more moist
If you don’t want your rice pudding to be super sweet, cut down two tablespoons of sugar to one tablespoon.