Nian Gao - Chinese New Year Cake

Nian gao (年糕 nián gāo), also called "rice cake" or "Chinese New Year cake", is a traditional food which made from glutinous rice flour and eaten during Chinese New Year.

Do you know why Nian gao is a must during Chinese New Year? Do you know how to make Nian gao? Reading this article, you will find the answers.

Nian Gao Meaning: Why Eat Nian Gao

Nian gao is a traditional food eaten during Chinese New Year. People believed it carries auspicious meaning.

Nian gao is a homonym for "higher year." The Chinese word 粘 (nián), meaning "sticky", is identical in sound to 年, meaning "year". The word 糕 (gāo), meaning "cake" is identical in sound to 高, meaning "high or tall".

For old people, nian gao expresses the wish for longevity. For young people, it expresses the wish for promotion and high income. For kids, it expresses the wish to grow up.

The main color of nian gao is yellow and white. In Chinese culture, yellow symbolizes gold and white symbolizes silver. So nian gao also symbolizes the God of Wealth.

Whether from the point of view of pronunciation or color, nian gao is a lucky food and it sends good wishes for a better year.

History of Nian Gao

Nian Gao

The history of nian gao is over 2000 years. After the Chinese Calendar established in the Zhou Dynasty (11th century BC - 256 BC), Chinese people began to have the concept of "year". From then on, people offered nian gao as sacrifices to gods and ancestors.

In the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), nian gao became a traditional Chinese food eaten during the Spring Festival.

In the Qing Dynasty (1636 – 1912), nian gao developed into a common folk snack eaten all year round, but it is still a special treat for the festival.

Types of Nian Gao

Yellow Nian Gao

Within the extensive land of China, types of nian gao vary a lot in different areas. From northern regions and the south nian gao almost seems like entirely different things.

In northern China, local people usually eat white nian gao, while in northwest China, people eat yellow nian gao. In the southwest area, water-mill-made nian gao is a popular dessert. Red, green, or purple rice cakes made from vegetable dye are common food eaten in southern China. They are usually cooked with vegetables and meat.

The flavors of nian gao can be divided into two major types:

  • Sweet nian gao is usually made in northern China by steaming or frying. It is usually served as a dessert after a meal.
  • In southern China, nian gao can be sweet, salty, or spicy. It can be cooked by steaming, deep-frying, stir-frying, or even cooking in the soup.

Nian Gao Recipes: How to Make Nian Gao

Traditional Nian Gao

Traditional nian gao is usually made from glutinous rice flour, sugar (or salt), and water. It is very easy!

  • Step 1: Put glutinous rice flour, sugar (or salt), and water in a bowl and mix them up.
  • Step 2: Stir thoroughly until the batter is smooth (without any lumps).
  • Step 3: Pour the batter evenly into the pan and steam for about 1 hour.

You can add other food ingredients such as jujube, peanuts, or sesame on the top of nian gao for extra flavoring or decoration.

Tips of Nian Gao

1. Chinese people usually put some red paper on top of the nian gao. It is a traditional way to show good wishes, so don't be surprised.

2. Don't eat too much at a time as nian gao is made from glutinous rice flour, it is hard to digest.

3. Store nian gao in a dry and cool place. It can be stored for a long time (half a year) in the refrigerator. Just reheat it with a steamer or microwave when you are ready to eat.

Spend a New Year in China

Visiting China during the Chinese New Year period, you will see the streets filled with lanterns and Spring Festival rhymes and riddles, representing good luck, to show people's happiness. From jungle-covered mountains to modern metropolises to ancient cities, the New Year brings all of China together, seeing it for yourself is an unforgettable experience.

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