Chinese New Year Cake - Symbols and Meanings

Written by Matteo Updated Apr. 3, 2021

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

Chinese New Year cake/Niao Gao is a must-eat snack for the Chinese Spring Festival. Eating Nian Gao always means a happy and lucky next year. 

Chinese New Year cake- Niao Gao
Chinese New Year cake- Niao Gao

Symbols and Meaning of Lunar New Year Cake

Chinese Lunar New Year cake symbolizes a better life, wealth, and good luck in the coming year. 

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.

Top Nian Gao Recipes

 There are many different recipes for Nian Gao in China. 

In northern China, local people usually eat white Nian Gao, which tastes sweet.  

In southern China, Red, green, or purple rice cakes made from vegetable dye are common. The taste can be sweet, spicy, and salty.  They are usually cooked with vegetables and meat.

Chinese Yellow Nian Gao
Chinese Yellow Nian Gao

 3 Easy Steps to Make Nian Gao at Home

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

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

Traditional Nian Gao
Traditional Nian Gao

Tips to Eat Nian Gao the Local Way

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, which 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.

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