Lychee Cake: A Popular Jamaican Dessert with Chinese Jamaican Roots

Lychee cake, a dessert with Chinese Jamaican origins, has become a beloved treat in Jamaica and beyond. Selena Wong, a self-taught baker from Kingston, Jamaica, created the cake during the Lunar New Year of 1988. Wong’s lychee cake, inspired by the popularity of strawberry shortcake in Jamaica, quickly gained popularity among her family and eventually became a national obsession.

The cake, featuring canned lychees and their syrup, is now one of Jamaica’s most popular desserts. It can be found in grocery stores, pastry shops, and sold by home bakers. The popularity of lychee cake has even spread to Jamaican American communities in cities like Miami.

In Miami, Kay Chen, a descendant of Chinese immigrants to Jamaica, has been baking lychee cakes for many years. Chen, who previously owned a nightclub and operated a Blockbuster video franchise, turned to baking as a way to earn extra money. She considers lychee cake a “special occasion cake” and has a loyal customer base.

Nikki Stultz, who also comes from a Chinese Jamaican background, used to sell lychee cakes from her home in Miami. She is now considering continuing her baking business in Marietta, Georgia. Stultz has experienced great success, selling up to 300 cakes during the holiday season.

Lychee cake is closely associated with the descendants of Chinese immigrants who arrived in the Caribbean in the early 1800s. While lychee trees were brought to Jamaica from China in the 18th century, fresh lychees are not used in the cake due to their fickle bearing cycle and cost. Canned lychees are preferred, allowing Jamaicans to enjoy fresh lychees separately.

The popularity of lychee cake extends beyond Jamaica. Elise Yap, the proprietor of The Blue House Bed & Breakfast in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, serves lychee cake for their weekly Chinese Jamaican night. Lychee is considered a “crave” for Jamaicans, and it has even been used to create lychee ice cream.

The recipe for lychee cake is often kept secret by bakers, as it requires skill to achieve a light sponge and whipped cream that holds. Selena Wong, who credits lychee cake for launching her successful pastry business, recently opened a dessert shop called the Bakery in Kingston. Her lychee cake has become a favorite among prime ministers, actors, and musicians.

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