Happy New Year! Chinese people celebrated the lunar new year on February 12 this year. The Chinese new year lasts for 15 days. It is also known as Spring Festival. It marks the end of winter and the beginning of the spring season. It actually starts on the eve of the first day where everyone gathers together for a reunion dinner, quite like American Thanksgiving. There are special significances for each day of the new year – the first day is when people visit the homes of their elderly relatives, the second day is when married women traditionally go back to visit their birth parents, the seventh day is every person’s birthday and the 15th day is Lantern Festival day (“Yuan Xiao”). Chinese people from different parts of China have different kinds of auspicious new year foods. My family is Cantonese from Hong Kong and Singapore and these are the cakes that we usually eat at Chinese New Year – radish cake, taro cake and sticky nian gao (年糕) . The gao for cake 糕 sounds like gao 高 which means high and so at Chinese New Year, we eat nian gao and wish everyone 步步高升 which means to go higher (Job promotions! Get promoted to the next grade! ) at every step of the way.
You can find the recipe for radish cake in a previous blog post called “My Mother’s Radish Cake”.
In this blog post, I would like to share with you how sticky nian gao is prepared. You can find it in Chinese supermarkets in the one to four weeks before Chinese New Year, or make it yourself. I usually buy mine from Chinese supermarkets. The traditional ones are wrapped in leaves and the modern ones are in plastic containers. They are typically made with brown sugar or gula melaka (in Singapore and Malaysia). Some are light brown and some are darker in color, depending on the type of sugar used. In some years, I had bought supermarket nian gao that are very sticky and difficult to cut. Putting it in the fridge for a few days tends to make it easier to cut.
Method: (used by my family)
1. Remove the nian gao from the plastic container. Using a knife, slice it into pieces of 1/2 or 3/4 cm thickness.
2. Beat 2-3 eggs. Dip each slice into the egg mixture. Add a bit of oil in the frying pan. Using medium heat, fry each slice until the egg covered nian gao is slightly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, then turn it over and repeat. If the egg peels off, pour a little egg mixture over the slice in the frying pan and fry until both sides are golden brown.
Another variation of preparing nian gao in Malaysia: Cut the nian gao into little cubes, then steam the cubed nian gao and roll them in freshly grated coconut.
Another variation which I found in Taiwan is to sandwich the nian gao between 2 slices of taro and deep fry them in a batter.
As you can see, there are many ways to prepare nian gao, depending on which part of the world you are at.