As a proud Chinese Canadian, I couldn’t help but write a quick blog post announcing the start of a new year in the lunar calendar… which officially started yesterday on February 10, 2013.
And if you’re familiar with the Chinese calendar, you’ve likely heard of the 12 zodiac animals. Each animal presides over a year within the 12-year cycle of the Chinese calendar.
2013? It’s the year of the snake!
So congrats to you if you were also born in a snake year. According to Chinese symbology, people born during the year of the snake are characterized to be highly intelligent, but also unscrupulous. Take from that what you will!
With the start of a brand new year in the Chinese calendar, comes along with it a smorgasbord of Chinese New Year celebration foods.
There are certain food dishes & ingredients that are always eaten in celebration of a new year due to the similarity of their names with Chinese words symbolizing luck, fortune or other expressions of happiness.
Here are 10 examples, listed in alphabetical order…
(Note: You might be interested to know that each of these food items are represented in my list of top 10 favorite Chinese New Year dishes! Scroll down for details.)
- The words 竹笋尖 (pronounced zhú sǔn jiān) represent “wealth,” because the words sound similar to a separate Chinese phrase that translates to “wishing that everything would be well”
- The words 豆腐 (pronounced dòu fǔ) translate to “fulfillment of wealth & happiness”
- Interesting note: Never serve fresh tofu, as the color white is associated with death!
- The words 白菜 (pronounced pak choy) translate to “100 types of prosperity luck”
- The word 蛋 (pronounced dàn) means fertility
- The word 魚 (pronounced yú), meaning “fish”, has the same pronunciation as the word 餘, which translates to “remain or surplus” and “having leftovers of money” (i.e. an increase in prosperity)
- The words 饺子 (pronounced jiǎozi) share the same pronunciation as the words 角子 (also pronounced jiǎozi), which translate to a small coin used in ancient times (i.e. equivalent to “wealth”)
- The words 生菜 (pronounced shēngcài) represent “prosperity”
- In particular, foods that are rolled in lettuce (i.e. lettuce rolls) are associated with “having a child soon”
- The words 什锦蔬菜 (pronounced shíjǐn shūcài) translate to mean “family harmony”
- The words 年糕 (pronounced nián’gāo) used in naming this traditional New Year dish are associated with the symbolism of “increasing prosperity every year”
- The words 萝卜糕 (pronounced luóbo gāo) represent “good omen”
Here are ten lucky traditional Chinese New Year dishes that I remember fondly from my childhood.
Cooking the Quintessential Chinese New Year Dish: “Nian Gao” Sticky Rice Cake Recipe
I may have listed “nian gao” sticky rice cakes as my second favorite Chinese New Year celebration food item. However, this lunar New Year pudding is pretty much universally known as the most traditional dish of choice to serve when celebrating the dawn of a new year in the Chinese calendar.
So in order to ensure a prosperous new year is within reach for you in the months ahead, I recommend cooking your own “nian gao” rice cake pudding.
Here is a recipe for cooking a classier version of the traditional Chinese New Year sticky rice cake that features coconut… created by Chef Jack Zhang and served at Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai. Much thanks to Katie Dillon from the Have Family Will Travel blog for posting the full recipe!
Cheers (& once again, happy Chinese New Year!),
Chinese New Year Nian Gao Coconut Sticky Rice Cake Recipe
- Description: A recipe for cooking “nian gao” coconut sticky rice cakes, a lucky Chinese New Year food dish traditionally served in celebration of the beginning of every lunar calendar year.
- Yield: 2 fish molds (use fish molds to form the rice cakes into fish shapes, which is how nian gao is traditionally served)
- Dish Type/Course: Appetizer/Side Dish
- Main Ingredient: Vegetable
- Cooking Method: Boiling, Steaming & Pan Frying
- Cuisine: Chinese
Cooking the Glutinous Rice Cake
- 1 1/3 cups (330 ml) water
- 3/4 cup (185 ml) granulated sugar
- 5 1/2 oz (170 g) rock sugar
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) peanut oil
- 1 cup (250 ml) + 2 tbsp (30 ml) coconut milk
- 2 1/2 cups (625 ml) glutinous rice flour (nuo mi fen), sifted
- 1 cup (250 ml) + 2 tbsp (30 ml) wheat starch (cheng mian), sifted
- 1 cup (250 ml) cornstarch, sifted
- Combine the water with the granulated and rock sugars in large pot.
- Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugars, then chill & reserve.
- In a food processor, mix together the peanut oil, coconut milk, flours & cornstarch.
- Process until the mixture is smooth.
- Drizzle in the chilled sugar water & set aside.
Cooking the Pumpkin Purée
- 1 tsp (5 ml) hot water
- 2 tsp (10 ml) wheat starch (cheng mian), sifted
- 4 tsp (20 ml) pumpkin (canned or fresh puréed)
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) granulated sugar
- 5 tsp (25 ml) glutinous rice flour (nuo mi fen), sifted
- 1 tsp (5 ml) pork lard (may substitute with vegetable shortening)
- If you are making pumpkin purée from scratch: Peel & de-seed a small pumpkin, cut into even-sized pieces, then remove any excess water & chill (otherwise, skip this step).
- In a small food processor or using a whisk, combine the hot water & wheat starch.
- Blend until combined.
- Cover with plastic wrap & set aside.
- Purée the pumpkin and sugar in a food processor until very smooth.
- Add the glutinous rice flour & blend until incorporated.
- Add the wheat starch & water mixture and the lard.
- Mix until incorporated.
Filling the Fish Molds
- Grease the molds with oil or non-stick spray.
- Carefully line the mold with the pumpkin paste, about 2 tbsp (30 ml) per mold.
- Fill each mold with rice cake batter, about 2 cups (500 ml) per mold.
- Place in a steamer & steam for 1 hour.
- Check for doneness with a bamboo skewer by poking the thickest part of the mold (if the batter sticks to the skewer, steam for 10 more minutes & check again).
- Once done, remove from the steamer & remove the cake from the mold while the cake is still hot.
- Cover with plastic wrap & place in the refrigerator to chill overnight.
Serving the Nian Gao Sticky Rice Cakes
- Slice into 1-inch (2-cm) thick slices.
- The rice cakes can then be steamed or pan fried before serving.
- Serve the nian gao plain or sprinkled with sugar.