Nian gao

Nian gao
Nián gāo
File-Guangdong Nianguo.jpg
Cantonese-style nian gao
Alternative name(s) Year cake, Chinese New Year's cake, tikay, ti kuih
Place of origin China
Region or state Chinese-speaking areas
Dish details
Variations Varies by region (Cantonese, Shanghai, Fujian, etc.)
Other information Typically consumed during Chinese New Year
Nian gao
Chinese 年糕
Literal meaning year cake
Alternative Chinese name
Chinese 甜粿
Literal meaning sweet kuih

Niángāo, Year cake or Chinese New Year's cake is a food prepared from glutinous rice and consumed in Chinese cuisine. It is available in Asian supermarkets and from health food stores. While it can be eaten all year round, traditionally it is most popular during Chinese New Year. It is considered good luck to eat nian gao during this time, because "nian gao" is a homonym for "higher year." The Chinese word 粘 (nián), meaning "sticky", is identical in sound to 年, meaning "year", and the word 糕 (gāo), meaning "cake" is identical in sound to 高, meaning "high". As such, eating nian gao has the symbolism of raising oneself higher in each coming year (年年高升 niánnián gāoshēng). Also known as rice cake. This sticky sweet snack was believed to be an offering to the Kitchen God, with the aim that his mouth will be stuck with the sticky cake, so that he can't badmouth the human's family to the God of all Gods (Yu Huang Da Di).[1]



Despite numerous varieties, they all share the same glutinous rice ingredient that is pounded or ground into a paste and, depending on the variety, may simply be molded into shape or cooked again to settle the ingredient. Nian gao has many varieties including the types found in Shanghai cuisine, Fujian cuisine and Cantonese cuisine originating from Guangdong.


Shanghai savoury nian gao

Shanghai cuisine

The Shanghai style is usually packaged in a thick soft rod to be sliced up or packaged pre-sliced and either stir-fried or added to soup. Depending on the cooking method this style is a soft to a chewy variant. The Shanghai style keeps the nian gao white, and made with non-glutinous rice. The color is its distinct feature.

When served as a dish, the most common is the stir-fry method, hence the name (炒年糕, chǎo nián gāo). There are three general types. The first is a savory dish, common ingredients include scallions, beef, pork, cabbage etc. The second is a sweet version using standard white sugar. The last version is taste-less, and is often consumed for its chewy textures.

Guangdong sweet nian gao, pan-fried

Cantonese cuisine

The Guangdong variety is also called nian gao. It is sweetened, usually with brown sugar. It is distinct with a dark yellow color. The paste is poured into a cake pan and steamed once more to settle mixture. The batter is steamed until it solidifies and served in thick slices. It may be eaten as is. The nian gao becomes stretchy and extremely sticky. It can also be served as a pudding flavored with rosewater or red bean paste.

The next stage is optional as it can be pan-fried afterwards,often with egg, to make (煎年糕, jyutping: zin1 nin4 gou1; pinyin: jiān nián gāo). When fried it is slightly crispy on the outside, and remains pasty on the inside. During Chinese New Year, it is cut into square pieces and served along with similar cake dim sum dishes like taro cake and water chestnut cake.

In Malaysia, it is called kuih bakul and is often fried in a sandwich in between pieces of taro or sweet potato.

Other cultures

Nian gao is also widely consumed in the Philippines during the Chinese New Year due to the Chinese living in the country. Nian gao is known as tikoy (from Hokkien 粿) in the Philippines and tikay တီကေ့ in Burma.

Japan and Korea both have similar glutinous rice foods, known as mochi and tteok, respectively, though tteok can be made with non-glutinous rice as well. This kind of tteok, which is like the Shanghai variety of niángāo, is traditionally eaten during Korean New Year (same as Chinese New Year) in a dish called tteokguk.


Different parts of Asia have mixed the cake with different ingredients such as red bean paste or even lotus seed paste. They are not considered to be main branches or major cuisine variations.


See also


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