Like turkey to Thanksgiving, or fruitcake and mince pies to Christmas, dumplings and spring rolls and mandarin oranges and whole fish and tang yuan and longevity noodles embody the Lunar New Year. There is one little snack, though, that’s often sidelined in the revelry: pineapple tarts.
Though these tropical treats don’t always grace tables in celebrations across mainland China, within Chinese communities in Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and several other countries, they take center stage. This is because many natives of Fujian (the south-easternmost Chinese state) fled south during the political turmoil of the country in the early 1900s. Most of them settled down in Taiwan, but many formed great networks of Chinese communities in what is now Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. Along with their language, traditions, and culture, they brought pineapple tarts, a steady beacon of wealth and good fortune. In fact, in the Hokkien (or Fujian) dialect, the word for pineapple is ong lai, which translates to “come here, wealth!”
In Malaysia and Singapore, they’re available in a variety of forms: jam rolled into simple balls, dough rolled long with bits of jam peeking out the ends and scored on the top, or most commonly, with the pastry cut into retro shapes and the jam plopped on top at the end, exposed in all its glory. In Taiwan, they’re sold as little rectangular gold bars known as feng li su, often with chunks of jelly-like winter melon added to the jam, lending an extra touch of opulence. In Singapore, you may even find them shaped like tangerines.
Pineapple tarts have become so popular in multicultural Malaysia, it’s not at all rare for them to show up in the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Fitr and the Hindu celebration of Diwali. In an effort to take them one step further and transcend yet another cultural boundary, I bring you pineapple hamantaschen. My thought was that, hey, why not add another religion to the mix? With Purim coming in just a few weeks, these traditional Ashkenazi cookies are a great canvas for many different, creative fillings.
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At the very least, intense, lustrous, cinnamon and star anise–spiced jam encased in an equally rich, crumbly dough are rich in taste. Ong lai!
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