Friday, February 5, 2010
Cook a sweet and sticky New Year Cake (nian gao) to ensure that you'll get a favourable report from the Kitchen God.
Each year, as the eleventh month of the Lunar calender approaches, bustling street markets and homes in the heartlands of Singapore become even more busier than usual,thrown into a frenzy of activity by the customary spring cleaning of their homes in preparation for the Chinese New Year. The street stalls and shops are well stocked and festooned with New Year decorations and auspicious characters such as 春 (spring) or 福 (luck) and spring couplets hangings (春联) are sold. Many Singaporean Chinese families make it a point to paste these auspicious characters and couplets at the main door, in the hope of obtaining good fortune in the coming year. The Chinese character 福 is deliberately placed "upside down" because is a homonym for arrival ( 到)Thus an upside down 福 infers the arrival of good fortune and luck.
Like many Singaporean Taoists, my mother practiced many traditions associated with this annual celebration in the hope of obtaining good fortune for her family and her future generations. Customarily, Nián gāo, Year cake or Chinese New Year's cake, is always prepared and consumed during the festive season. It is considered good luck by many Singaporean Chinese families, to eat nian gao during this time, because "nian gao" is a homonym for "higher year." (年年高升). The sticky texture of the cake (粘), 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.
Besides, for Mum and many Taoists, the most important day of the 12th month (lunar calendar) is the 24th which falls on the 7th February this year, when the kitchen god returns to heaven to summit his annual of the household. Hmm...Sound familiar? Just like Santa Claus, he's making a list and checking it twice. He's going to find out who's naughty and nice. To ensure he makes a favorable report, Mum would usually prepare sweet offerings for him on this day What can be a sweeter treat or bribe than nian gao?