Well, besides the festivities and red envelopes (which, by the way, I'm totally still allowed to collect on since I'm unmarried :D). So what is it?
...It's nian gao! Also known as Chinese new year's cake. It's like a Chinese mochi.
Yes, I have orchids readily available for food garnishing. What? ;)
Every year, around the week before Chinese new year, my kitchen turns into a nian gao making factory, and this year was no exception -- I made four batches this week! I've loved nian gao since I was a little kid, and since my mom taught me how to make it a few years ago, I've been the designated nian gao maker among my friends and family.
When I first started making them, my parents would take some of it to work to give them to their clients for good luck. Years later, those clients have made it a habit to come collect every year, mostly Chinese and Filipino clients (there's a pretty big Chinese population in the the Philippines and they call nian gao "tikoy"). The collection of these bad boys have kind of gotten out of hand, so this year, I experimented with making little cupcake sized ones instead of just large ones, so that I can save myself some time, and still be able to spread the love/good luck.
Not to toot my own horn or anything, but uh, what can I say? I do make a pretty mean nian gao ;)
So what's the significance of this tasty treat for new years? Well, "nian" means "year" and "gao" means "cake". In Chinese, though, "gao" also sounds like the word for "tall" or "high", so "nian gao" has taken on the meaning of a higher, or better, year, in every aspect of one's life. So eat up!
If you wanna make some for yourself, here's a very simple recipe that my mom taught me:
14 ounces of coconut milk (1 can)
14 ounces of water
16 ounces of brown rock candy or brown sugar (1 whole package)
16 ounces of glutinous rice flour
Dried red dates (optional for topping)
Roasted white sesame (optional for topping)
Boil up the water and add the brown sugar.
When all the sugar is melted down, take it off the heat and add the coconut milk.
Take a flour sifter and whisk the glutinous flour into the liquid.
Pour batter into a lightly greased container of your choice (can fit into two 8-inch pie trays or several cupcake tins)
This is optional, but you can top with a red date in the center, plus some roasted sesame sprinkled about.
You have your choice of either steaming it for 15 minutes, or baking it at 350 for 25 minutes.
Do the toothpick test!
Tada! Nian gao can be eaten as is when fresh, or if it has been chilled in the fridge or out for a few days, it will harden up. Once it hardens up, it can sliced up and panfried, which is really friggin delicious! It will have a crunchy exterior while still having a gooey inside. Or as I learned from @Sharrie's Chinese New Year Goodies list, it can also be pan fried with eggs. I still gotta try that!
When I'm not Lunching, I'm a jeweler, and an all around, self-proclaimed web geek. My passions include social media, the interweb, technology, writing, yoga, fitness, photography, jewelry, fashion, … more
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Nián gāo, Year cake or Chinese new year's cake is a food prepared from glutinous rice and consumed in Chinese cuisine. It is available in Asian supermarkets and from health food stores. While it can be eaten all year round, traditionally it is most popular during Chinese New Year. It is considered good luck to eat nian gao during this time, because "nian gao" is a homonym for "higher year." The Chinese word 粘 (nián), meaning "sticky", is identical in sound to 年, meaning "year", and the word 糕 (gāo), meaning "cake" is identical in sound to 高, meaning "high". As such, eating nian gao has the symbolism of raising oneself higher in each coming year (年年高升 niánnián gāoshēng).