Nian Gao or Sticky Cake Chinese New Year Dish
Find out the history of this traditional New Years dish, and try a recipe.
There are many
traditions associated with the Chinese New Years
season or Spring Festival. However, one
important tradition takes place before the old
year has come to a close. According to legend,
one week before the Spring Festival begins, the
Kitchen God returns to heaven to report on a
family's behavior during the previous year. A
negative report by the Kitchen God means a
family will suffer from bad luck during the year
The Legend of how the Kitchen God came to exist.
Basically, a beggar named Zhang leaped into a
fireplace to escape being seen by his former
wife. His embarrassment came not from his
reduced circumstances, but from the way he had
mistreated her. His wife tried vainly to put out
the fire, but was ultimately forced to watch her
former husband's ashes fly up the chimney. Upon
hearing the story, the Jade Emperor decided to
reward the man for admitting to his wrongdoings
by making him Kitchen God, charged with watching
over everyone's behavior.
Not surprisingly given his important task,
images of the Kitchen God portray him as a
rather imposing figure: "The man is rather large and is seated in regal
splendor, holding a quill in one hand, a tablet
in the other. He has two long whiskers, shaped
like smooth, tapered black whips."
In order to ensure a favorable report from the
Kitchen God, the custom evolved of feeding him
Nian Gao or Sticky Cake. According to different accounts
this was either a bribe, or simply a means of
ensuring the Kitchen God's mouth was too full of
cake to pass on an unfavorable report. Nian Gao
Cake is steamed (as are most Chinese cakes) and
made with glutinous rice flour and dried fruit.
The version below uses sugar, but you'll also
find recipes using peen tong, a traditional
Chinese brown candy.
Nian Gao or
Sticky Cake Chinese New Year Dish
1 tablespoon flour
2 eggs, with whites and yolks separated
? cup butter
? cup sugar
1/2 cups glutinous rice flour
1/3 cup milk
1 cup Chinese dried fruits, pitted if necessary
1 piece crystallized ginger, diced (optional)
? cup chopped walnuts
1. Grease a loaf pan that is approximately 4 x 8
inches and set aside.
2. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Cream together
the butter and the sugar. Add the egg yolks and
mix thoroughly. Add one-third (a little less
than 1/2 cup) of the glutinous rice flour and
mix. Add about half of the milk. Continue adding
the rice flour and the milk alternately until
the entire amount is mixed in.
3. Stir in whichever fruits you are using and then
add the beaten egg whites, folding them into the
4. Pour the cake batter into the loaf pan and
steam, covered, for about one hour. Allow to
cool and cut into thin slices.
*The author suggests preserved seedless plums,
preserved pears, or dates.