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Friday, February 8, 2008

CNY Festive Goodies - Nien Gao

Nien Gao or Sticky New Year Cakes are a must to have during Chinese New Year. Legend has it that 1 week before CNY 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 bad luck during the year to come. In order to ensure a favorable report from the Kitchen God, the custom evolved of feeding him Nien Gao or Sticky New Year Cakes. 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.

Eating Nien Gao also brings meaning of more prosperity throughout the year. In my house, we would place Nien Gao on our praying altars to signify advancement in our lives to come.

There are many versions of Nien Gaos in the various countries but the key ingredients in making Nien Gao is Glutinous Rice Flour. In Malaysia and Singapore, we normally have our Nien Gao steamed plain whereas other countries such as China, Hong Kong and Vietnam has their Nien Gao steamed with fruits such as red dates, dried longans (dragon eyes), nuts and others.

Vietnam Nien Gao comes sprinkled with sesame seeds

Making Nien Gao is a tedious process that involves glutinous flour, brown sugar and water mixed together and steamed over high heat continously for at least 18 hours. The best nien gao produced are the traditional ones made with pure glutinous rice flour and steamed in a tin can lined with banana leaves (that gives off the most fantastic aroma and taste) over a charcoal or wood fire. The result will be a sticky deep rich dark brown color with a good sheen.

Traditional Original Nien Gao in Malaysia

Sad to say that when modernization took over the process of nien gao, they also come in plastic containers but they are not that yummy as I feel they are lacking in the natural banana leaves aroma and that they have not been steamed long enough. To me, those are only good as praying deco to the gods. Yucky Modern Nien Gaos....

Yucky Modern Nien Gao with artificial flavorings...

Nien Gao that are freshly made are gooey soft and dense. They will harden over a period of 1 to 2 weeks and they can be kept in the freezer for many years. Once the Nien Gao hardens, my mum will slice them and pack them in the freezer.

These slices are usually eaten in 3 ways in my house. Firstly, steamed Nien Gao till they are soft and gooey again. Then roll them in dessicated coconut with a lil salt into lil balls. These lil balls has to be eaten with caution as they can be harmful by choking you but they are really delicious.

Secondly, they can be eaten pan fried. Just dip the Nien Gao slices into a pancake like batter and pan fried till golden brown on the outside and melty on the insides. I don't have a picture of it now but I will upload it once my mum fries the Nien Gao this way the next time.

Thirdly, these are more commonly found with chinese stall traders who sell fried banana fritters. The Nien Gao are sandwiched in between slices of yam and tapioca and dipped into an eggy batter and then deep fried resulting in a sinfully crispy yam, melty sticky nien gao and sweet potato sandwich. This is also a favorite of mine...yummy....

Sandwiching the Yam, Nien Gao and Sweet Potato Slices before dipping into batter to deep dry.

Freshly Deep Fried Yam, Nien Gao and Sweet Potato Sandwich Fritters...


Sinfully Delicious!


Woaahh....!!! Such a generous portion of Nien Gao in this piece!

Good to the last bite...!!!!

Argghhhhh...I am salivating as I type this post!!! I wanna eat this now!!! but the stall selling it is closed till Next Saturday....!!!

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