Nian Gao and longevity noodles
The Chinese New Year celebration is filled with tradition, a large part of which involves traditional foods and the superstitions that come with them. Despite the fact that the Chinese do not usually celebrate the new year with large parties, they have plenty of food to be eaten with their families and friends while they reflect upon the past and look forward to the future.
The Chinese New Year is full of superstitions, many of which surround the traditional foods eaten during the festival. Foods like whole fish represent abundance, and serving plenty of food symbolizes wealth for the household in which they’re served. A whole chicken complete with head and feet is symbolic of a person’s “completeness,” a concept common in Chinese thought and tradition. The Chinese also believe that red is a lucky color, and that it scares away evil. Red foods, then, are common, and Nian Gao (sticky cake) is sometimes made with red beans and wrapped in a red decorative cover.
While many traditional foods can be found at Chinese New Year parties or pre-made from commercial sellers, it is far more traditional to make them at home. With these recipes, you can make and enjoy traditional Chinese foods for the new year (even if you aren’t Chinese).
Nian Gao: Nian gao is the traditional Chinese New Year sticky cake made from glutinous rice. It is traditionally steamed but can also be baked. While baking will result in a different consistency, it’s quicker and easier to make if you don’t have four hours to spend making your nian gao.
1 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
4 1/2 cups sweet glutinous rice flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
First, combine the water and brown sugar in a small pot. Bring this to a boil, then simmer on a lower heat until all the sugar is dissolved (about five minutes). Add vegetable oil to the mixture and combine. Keep 1/4 of the mixture in a separate container for later use. Pour the larger mixture of sugar, oil, and water into a large bowl and mix in the flour. Once the dough is sticky, pour it into a round cake pan and pour the remaining oil mix on top. Put water into a large pot, making sure the water will not cover the pan. Put the cake pan into the pot and and cover. Allow the cake to steam for 4–5 hours, making sure the water does not evaporate. Once the cake has finished steaming, allow it to cool and slice to serve.
16 ounces sweet glutinous rice flour
3 eggs, 3/4 cup of oil
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Oil a 9" x 13" baking pan and sprinkle with rice flour. Spread the dough into the pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Allow cake to cool and slice to serve.
Longevity Noodles: According to Chinese tradition, these noodles must not be cut in order to retain their luck. The noodles are symbolic of a long life and are also served on birthdays.
1 pound thin egg noodles
3 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 green onions
2 tablespoons cooked ham (cubed)
Fill a large pot with water and, once water boils, add salt and noodles to the water. Separate noodles with chopsticks while cooking, being careful not to break the noodles. Rinse noodles in cold water, drain, and separate into four individual bowls. Boil chicken stock in a medium saucepan. Mix cornstarch with 2 teaspoons water and add cornstarch mixture, soy sauce, and sesame oil to the stock. Beat eggs together and slowly pour them into the stock mixture. When eggs are cooked, pour equal amounts of stock mixture into each noodle bowl. Garnish with slices of green onion and ham.