Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Little late.... But: Chinese New Year and the 年糕 (“nian gao")

Well more than a little late... really late, but this is a recipe my mom makes a lot, especially during Chinese New Year (which was January 31 this year!). After more than 20 years, I finally learned how to make it this New Years as well!

This is the nian gao or steamed Chinese New Year cake!

The pictures I have above are actually from the end of January. I made a bunch of these nian gaos in ramekins, and gave them away as gifts. My friends really liked them, but what’s even better is that they’re super easy to make, and doesn’t require a lot of ingredients!

So before I get to the recipe, I want to share a little of what I know on the history of Chinese New Year.... If you're looking for the recipe, scroll to the bottom of the post!

Chinese New Year is an ancient festival based on the Lunar calendar, beginning in the middle of the 12th month and ending in the middle of the 1st month. It involves the Chinese zodiac, which includes 12 animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Each new year is characterized by one of these animals.

Chinese New Year has been celebrated since the Shang Dynasty in the 14th century B.C. Traditionally, it involves activities such as cleaning and then decorating the house with red items including lanterns and Chinese paper cuts, giving out red envelopes (红包 - "hong bao") filled with money to children, setting off fireworks to scare away evil, and holding a big feast on New Year's Eve. The feast is often celebrated with the extended family and includes dishes such as the Eight Treasures Rice (八宝饭 - "ba bao fan"), dumplings, and glutinous rice balls (汤圆 - "tang yuan").

Today, Chinese New Year is no longer called Chinese New Year but instead the Spring Festival. It is still the most important social and economic holiday in China. However, the attitude towards it is not the same as it once was. It is still a time for family to get together and celebrate, but many young people use the holiday as a time to relax from work and/or watch the televised Spring Festival Gala (春节联欢晚会 - "chun jie lian huan wan hui").

So although meaning behind Chinese New Year has changed over the centuries, it is nevertheless still one of the most important cultural celebrations in China with a long and rich history.
I've never been to China during the Chinese New year celebrations, but I've heard it's full of energy and is a lot of fun. Have any of you been there during the celebrations before? I'd love to hear about your experience! :)

The glutinous rice flour is on the left! You should be able to find this at any Asian market!
Steamed Chinese New Year Cake:

  • 1 bag glutinous rice flour
  • 1.8 cups liquid*
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • Chinese dates
  1. Mix all ingredients together until smooth.
  2. Oil baking dish/ceramic bowl with vegetable oil, or in my case coconut oil.
  3. Pour contents into a baking dish/ceramic bowl, and decorate with pitted dates.
  4. Cover dish with aluminum foil and steam on high for 30-40 minutes. The New Year cake is ready when the chopstick comes out
  5. Enjoy!

*I used azuki bean soup, which I made by cooking azuki beans in a slow cooker until the beans were soft. However, you can also use water or milk as well.
If you’ve ever had nian gao before or if you make this recipe, please let me know what you think! I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do~


  1. Happy Chinese New Year! Cake looks yummy! Thanks for the follow. Following back.

  2. Thanks Diana! Hope you've been having a great Chinese New Year so far! It's the year of the Goat this year :)