Much like many of the symbolic dishes of Lunar New Year, nian gao is chosen because its name sounds similar to words with an auspicious meaning. Nian, meaning sticky, sounds like the Chinese word for year, while gao, meaning cake, also sounds like high or tall. Nian gao therefore means ‘higher year’, so if you want to aim high in 2018, this is the dish for you!
Nian gao is a popular gift during Chinese New Year, as the giver bestows prosperity upon their friends and family. Why not try making your own at home with this authentic recipe for nian gao? In Chinese culture, it’s also believed that by offering nian gao to the Kitchen God, his mouth would be sweetened with kind words and so crammed with sticky rice that he wouldn’t be able to talk ill of the family to the Jade Emperor.
Asian cultures around the world all have a slightly different take on nian gao, ranging from sweet, sticky cakes to savoury stir-fries. Find your favourite variety below.
Sweetened with brown sugar, Cantonese nian gao has a dark golden hue. It is steamed and served in thick slices, either plain, in a pudding with rosewater or red bean paste, or pan-fried until crisp on the outside.
In the Southern Chinese region of Fujian, nian gao is made of glutinous rice and taro, with a rich amber colour. Like the Cantonese version, it can be sliced and served plain, or wrapped in egg or sweet potato and fried. Try this recipe for deep-fried nian gao with egg.
For a savoury take on nian gao, try the Shanghainese version, which is packaged as a soft and chewy white rod, which can be sliced and stir-fried with spring onions, beef, pork and cabbage.
Nian gao in the north of China are generally sweetened with jujubes, red beans or red dates, served steamed or fried.
Known as kue keranjang, nian gao in Indonesia is also called Yearly Cake or Seasonal Cake, as it’s only eaten during the Lunar New Year.
In Malaysia, nian gao sticky rice is often sandwiched and fried between slices of taro or sweet potato. Try this sweet and gummy recipe for deep-fried nian gao with sweet potato and yam, perfect with a cup of coffee.
For their iconic tteok guk (New Year rice cake soup), Koreans use chewy rice cakes that are similar to the Shanghai style of nian gao.
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