Chinese New Year is this coming Sunday, so today, I’m sharing a very special recipe – my Aunt Florence’s Coconut Sticky Rice Cake. She’s in her 90’s now but she is as spry as can be and still cooking. She is the author of five comprehensive Chinese cookbooks of which I am the proud owner. On a recent call when I was looking for advice for a recipe I was trying to recreate, she offered up this simple Chinese New Year recipe.
Before we get to the recipe, I just want to explain a little something about the foods that are eaten for Chinese New Year. There are lots of traditional foods that are eaten for Chinese New Year, mostly because they either sound like words that mean prosperity, luck, wealth or good fortune, or look like money or gold. Chinese people are into the symbolism of food.
For example, food that might be served for Chinese New Year include a whole chicken (family unity), a whole fish (surplus), duck (happiness), lobster (life and energy), Buddha’s Delight (a vegetarian dish made with symbolic ingredients), shrimp (wealth and abundance), oysters (good fortune), scallops (shaped like ancient coins), tea eggs (fertility), noodles (longevity), jiao-tze or dumplings (shaped like old coins), turnip cake (prosperity and rising fortunes), and spring rolls (resemble gold bricks). Although dried bean curd can be eaten (happiness), fresh tofu is not served because its white color symbolizes death and misfortune. Tangerines, oranges and pomelos are given out for good luck and abundance.
So, back to today’s Coconut Sticky Rice Cake. This cake is considered one of the most important cakes eaten for Chinese New Year. It is made with sticky rice or glutinous rice flour, and is symbolic of family cohesiveness. In Chinese, this cake is called “nian gao,” which symbolizes increasing prosperity every year. For New Years, people greet each other “‘Nian Nian Gao Sheng” which means “advance toward higher positions and prosperity step by step.”
Although traditionally, sticky rice cake is steamed, my aunt now bakes it because it’s easier and tastier. This cake is nothing like your typical cake – the texture is like mochi – it’s sticky. It also happens to be gluten-free.
I have to agree with my aunt – I like this even better than the steamed version. I split this cake in half and shipped half to my parents, and kept the rest for our family. I’ll be making another one of these this weekend for Chinese New Year – my boys loved this.
I wrote an extensive post last year all about Chinese New Year Traditions with lots of links to books and other resources about the Chinese New Year if you’re interested in learning more.
Here are some more recipes to inspire you to cook for Chinese New Years:
Braised Chicken with Chestnuts
Spicy Kung Pao Chicken with Walnuts
Asian Chicken Stew in a Crockpot
Stir-Fry Noodles with Chicken, Shitake Mushrooms and Vegetables
Dan Dan Mien
Chinese Turnip Cake
Gluten-Free Chinese Dumplings
Mother’s Famous Chinese Egg Rolls (Steamy Kitchen)
Long Life Fertility Noodles with Happy Shrimp (Steamy Kitchen)
Easy Chinese Steamed Fish (Appetite for China)
Dragon Well Shrimp (Appetite for China)
Soy Sauce Chicken (Rasa Malaysia)
Longevity Noodles with Chicken, Ginger and Mushrooms (Grace Young)
Stir-Fry Sugar Snap Peas with Mushrooms (Grace Young)
Chinese New Year Cake (The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook)
Marbled Tea Eggs (The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook)
Tomato Chilli Prawns (Christine’s Recipes)
Braised Shitake Mushrooms (Christine’s Recipes)
Water Chestnut Cake (Christine’s Recipes)