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?


  1. Hi Mr Wong
    I read your blog regularly. I find your postings to be interesting with its varied coverage of topics, well written and with your insightful knowledge of the subjects covered. Althouhj now living in Australia for a long time, you seem to continue to have great respect for the culture you come from and more importantly take the time to share your knowledge with others. By the way, I too an old boy of your Victoria School in Singapore too and it is great to know the role you have been playing in publicising the appeal for financial aid for the young Victorian Azri. apparently a bright student whom his humblefamily must have looking forward to for a better life if not for the unfortunate accident that he was involved. Thanks. Nil Sine Labore

  2. Hi Annonymous,
    Thanks for visiting my blog.It is nice to know that you are my brother Victorian. Nil Sine Labore seems to be our battle cry no matter where we are and what we do. Thanks for sharing the same spirit and thought. Please spread and keep up the Azri appeal.
    BTW, which year did you leave Victoria School? I would like to add you to my list of new found friends. Would you PM to tell me who you are. Thanks

    Nil Sine Labore,

  3. phil, these days, very few singaporeans make their own nian gao; they are mostly factory-made. in the past, the spring couplets were hand-written; today's they are nicely printed or embroidered.

  4. Hi Open Concept Kitchen,
    I have to cut and paste your comment here because I find it difficult to search for comment once I click 'publish' as I do not know where it will appear. Unless it has a reference to the specific subject I have written. Please post your comment in my latest post. Thanks.
    "hi, I chanced upon this blog and wow.. I'm so impressed with this. It looks good.. but I just have a small question.. Do you use the first water from the first washing of the rice or the second (or third) washing. The reason I ask this is because I use the water from washing my rice to water my plants but I've learnt from a forum not to use the first washing because it'd contain talcum which is what keeps the rice from sticking together. And.. hm.. won't there also be dust and sometimes some crawlies from the first wash?
    (Open Kitchen Concept)"
    I am not sure about talcum being used in the rice production. Can someone answer that question for me. We use Aussie grown rice and they are reasonably clean and free from grits or crawlies. I remembered biting into a grit found in my rice on a few occassions, when I was travelling in Indonesia many years ago. But these days most imported rice are quite free from teeth breaking grits. :)