Chinese New Year cake is often referred to as Niangao which is prepared with much enthusiasm in most homes in China and other countries following the Chinese calendar.
Although it is a dish prepared all round the year as part of the famous Chinese cuisine, it is mostly popular during Chinese New Year.
Most people consider it as a lucky food that during the emergence of a New Year and hence the popular belief makes it a common dish to be seen in most houses during the traditional festive holiday celebrations. Eating this lucky food is considered symbolic to raising oneself to a higher level each year.
Nian Gao is a rice cake prepared from glutinous rice and hence it is quite sticky as compared to other cakes available in the market. People also offer this sticky, sweet snack cake to the Kitchen God with beliefs that his mouth will get sticky because of the high level of glutinous rice and hence he will not be able to badmouth the people of the family in front of the Jade Emperor.
It is interesting to note that there are folklores or tales behind the history of this festive Chinese New Year food – Nian Gao. According to a tale as that was present in ancient China, Nian was the name of a monster that stayed in caves in the mountain, while Gao was a villager who saved the village folks from the wrath of monster.
The monster was thought to visit the town for hunting down people to satiate his hunger during the winter season when most animals went into hibernation and forced him to live on the human flesh. Gao thought of a brilliant idea to avert the danger caused by the monster and kept pre-made pastry in front of his door so that when he came down for hinting, he could eat that and go away without harming the humans. When the monster came down, it did not find any human but filled his stomach with the pastry and went back to the mountain. Since that day, rice pastry was cooked in houses in village during every winter to prevent Nian from eating them. Celebrations for their survival continued and rice cake made by villagers was named Nian Gao.
According to another legend, Nian gao is made every year as part of Chinese New Year celebrations to remember the wisdom of Wu Zixu, prime minister of the State of Wu, who saved the citizens from dying out of hunger by eating rice cakes found under the wall around the capital of Wu when neighboring State of Yue attacked it.
Facts about Chinese New Year Cake
Nian Gao has been a part of the kitchen of Chinese people since the olden days. Historians have also confirmed its presence about seven thousand years back when they found out wheat fossils in Zhejiang. It is supposed to bring prosperity and success each year and hence it serves as a perfect gift for most people during the Chinese New Year. The traditional shape of a Chinese New Year cake or Nian Gao is round but today’s focus on more innovation in food and cooking have prompted people to prepare it in different shapes and market it in different packages to make the most during the festive season.
Although different varieties and shapes of Nian Goa has emerged with passage of time, the method of preparation with glutinous rice as the chief ingredient have remained constant through the ages. A popular method of preparation requires the glutinous rice flour to be battered and grounded into a paste. Some coconut milk can be added to it and mixed well. A pudding basin is greased and a pot of water can be kept aside for steaming. Oil the pot and pour water into it, adding sugar and then letting it cook to mix well with the paste. Continuous stirring should be avoided to let it become a powder. The batter should be put back into the pot and then simmered and stirred constantly till it changes into a paste. Corn oil can be added and mixed to the paste. The pudding basic is then to be covered with aluminum foil and placed inside the hot water to steam for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. After steaming, it is ready to be served.
By learning the method of preparation, the history and interesting tales behind the origin of the name “Nian Gao” or Chinese New Year Cake and vital facts, you can now prepare it too as a part of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
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