Nian gao (年糕), also known as the New Year Cake, is a glutinous rice dessert often eaten during Chinese New Year. It is believed that the treat symbolizes the promise of a better year so it’s often consumed for good luck. Nian gao comes in many variations within the region (e.g. it’s sweeter in Northern China and more savory in southern China); and it’s also been adapted in areas across Asia with large Chinese communities. It’s a staple in every Chinese New Year celebration, so we’re here to help you make sure that there’s always nian gao on the table—wherever you may be celebrating!
In Shanghai, Ningo nian gao is king. Instead of glutinous rice, their version is made from high-quality, short-grain japonica rice. It’s served either savory in a soup or as a dish with a mixture of toppings; or as a sweet treat, steamed or pan-fried, usually topped with osmanthus flowers. Delight in nian gao for dessert at Wai Po Jia and enjoy the pleasant taste and chewy texture that locals love!
8th Floor Shanghai Joy City, 166 Xizang Bei Lu near Qufu Lu, Shanghai, China
Beijingers make trips to Bai Ji Niangao for their delicious freshly-made rendition of the glutinous rice treat! The family-owned establishment takes pride in using the best locally-sourced ingredients to make their nian gao. It’s even halal! You’ll find several variations of the dessert, such as qiegao (切糕, a large slab with alternating layers of rice and red bean paste) and “rolling donkey” (驴打滚, a log of rice wrapped around red bean paste and dusted with roast soybean flour).
First Floor Niu Jie Qingzhen Supermarket, 1 Shangye Lou, Niu Jie Street, Xuanwu District, Beijing, China
FLM Fine Foods is an extension of Fook Lam Moon, a Michelin-recognized brand known for its classic Cantonese cuisine. Inspired by their chef’s culinary artistry, the retail arm produces an exceptional range of ready-to-eat goodies! There are five outlets across Hong Kong, but their Chinese New Year products are quickly selling out. Head to the nearest one to get your hands on their delicious nian gao!
Shop 3, Ground Floor, Newman House, 35-45 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
In the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, Dihua Street in downtown Taipei transforms into a one-stop shopping street for all your celebration needs! Scour hundreds of stalls hawking traditional eats, decorations, and gifts to help you kickstart the new year. Locals flock to the area during this time, so it’s a great place to get into the festive spirit!
Datong District, Taipei, Taiwan
In tribute to his father, pastry chef Daniel Tay rebranded the now-defunct Seng Choong Confectionery into Old Seng Choong, an old-school bakery in Singapore crafting local delicacies. During Chinese New Year season, they stock their shelves with traditional festive goodies like pineapple tarts, yam cakes, and, of course, nian gao! Perfect for the health-conscious, their rendition of the glutinous rice dessert is made less sweet and lends itself well to either steaming or pan-frying.
6 Eu Tong Sen Street, The Central at Clarke Quay, #01-48, Singapore
Chinese locals visit Petak Sembilan Market for all their New Year needs. The market is famous for the range of holiday essentials, particularly kue keranjang (Indonesian term for nian gao). Here, you’ll encounter various flavors of kue keranjang from different regions in Indonesia. Try to get your hands on the cakes from Tangerang which often comes in banana leaf-lined containers. They have a shorter shelf life, but they taste so good that you’ll finish the whole box in no time!
Glodok, Tamansari, Kota Jakarta Barat, Jakarta, Indonesia
Head to Sungai Ara Market to find kuih bakul (Malaysian term for nian gao) made the old-fashioned way! It’s a laborious method which involves soaking the rice overnight, mixing it with sugar, kneading it as a dough, pouring it into molds, then watching it closely as it steams until it turns brown. To preserve the traditional taste of kuih bakul, the makers use white sugar instead of caramelized or brown sugar for the dough and line the molds used for cooking with banana leaves. Only a few hundred cakes are made each time; and are only sold on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM.
Tingkat Sungai Ara 1, Sungai Ara, Bayan Lepas, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
A household name since 1962, Echague Bakery in Metro Manila claims to serve the best tikoy (local term for nian gao) in town! The dessert comes in different flavors (and colors) to suit your taste; and is firm to the bite when cooked. The shop also sell both handmade and machine-made Chinese pastries.
410 A. Bonifacio Avenue, San Jose, Balintawak, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
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