Few other cultures have as many traditions as the Chinese do when it comes to symbolism and food. Since the Chinese New Year is the biggest of Chinese celebrations, it has an extraordinarily large number of foods eaten in the belief that they usher in a better year ahead.
One of the must-haves is the nian gao (new year cake or literally “sticky cake”). The sweet, sticky snack made from glutinous rice flour can be eaten any time of the year but they are a staple during the Chinese New Year because its name is a homonym for “higher year” (年高). So, it is believed that eating nian gao will ensure better times to come. This tradition is an age-old one, dating back some seven thousand years.
To help ring in a prosperous new year, Inside has asked master chefs from some restaurants to share their version of the nian gao .
The Shape of Things to Come
Crystal Jade Kitchen has not one but three types of nian gao available. The Gold Leaf Double Fish Glutinous Rice Cake ($36.80), the Gold Bar Glutinous Rice Cake ($19.80), and the Round Shape Glutinous Rice Cake ($23.80). Most nian gao come in round cakes because the circle is a symbol of wholeness. “Fish” in Mandarin sounds like the word for “excess” and is a favourite for the Chinese New Year as it symbolises great wealth.
“Glutinous Rice Cake or nian gao is an enduring Chinese New Year tradition. Because of its stickiness, it is a symbol of cohesiveness as well. There are various ways to consume the nian gao . It can be steamed and eaten plain; steamed and coated with peanut powder; pan-fried; or pan-fried with egg,” said a spokeman from Crystal Jade Kitchen.
Fill ‘Em Up
If you want other ways of enjoying your nian gao but have run out of ideas, the Dim Sum Master Chef at Peony Jade Restaurant has created several innovative varieties for you to sample. The Flourishing Wealth Trio Prosperous Fish Nian Gao hamper (S$188.88) is made up of three koi-shaped nian gao each with a different filling. One is filled with the restaurant’s signature Teochew orh-ni , a yam paste that is rich and creamy; one has a filling flavoured with oolong tea infused with sweet Osmanthhus; and the last has a desiccated coconut-filling that is fragrant and flavourful. Completing the hamper is a bottle of carmelised walnuts and a bottle of X.O. chilli sauce.
The Double Prosperity Blessings Gift Set (S$108.88) is for the fruit lover. The pair of koi-shaped nian gao is filled with pure D24 durian pulp, and mango pomelo and sago pudding. The bittersweet durian balances the sweetness of the nian gao while the pomelo and sago filling adds and interesting texture to the dessert. The set also has an ingot-shaped traditional nian gao for the purist who like their nian gao au naturel. Those who adore durians can also opt for a pair of Prosperity koi-shaped nian gao filled with D24 durian pulp which serves 12 (S$128.88).
Why Stick to Tradition?
If you want to eat nian gao but find the sticky sweet too cloying, try the Prosperity Gold Bar 100% PURE Mao Shan Wang durian layered nian gao (S$78.88 for 1kg) at Peony Jade. A novel spin-off of the durian mousse cake, this truly decadent take on the traditional nian gao sandwiches thin layers of nian gao with thick layers of mousse-like durian pulp. Introduced a few years ago, this nian gao is so good, it has since been selling like hot cakes every Chinese New Year.
With these nian gao that are high on appeal and culinary creativity, eating your way to a new year filled with greater prospects and higher achievements will be a yummy adventure!
Dine with us:Crystal Jade Kitchen
Crystal Jade Kitchen
Crystal Jade Kitchen
Peony Jade @ Clarke Quay