New Year Cake, Nian Gao年糕
Nian Gao 年糕 or New year cakes are sweet sticky Chinese pastries made from glutinous rice.
Nian Gao sounds similar to Nian Gao 年高 (年年高生) implying promotions or prosperity year after year. This association makes Nian Gao a popular gift item during the New Year period.
Among traditional Chinese pastries, Nian Gao probably has the greatest variety in its appearance and shape.
It is available all year round but especially popular during the Chinese New Year period. Just before the start of the Chinese New Year, a small piece of Nian Gao is pasted on the image of the Kitchen god (灶君，灶神) before sending him off to the Celestial court. It is believed that doing so ensures that the Kitchen god gives a favorable report on the household.
On the more human level, Nian Gao are popular as gifts during the Chinese New Year.
The traditional Nian Gao is round with a auspicious decoration such as the character for prosperity 发 on its top. The character is often written in the traditional Chinese script.
It can come in several sizes small, medium and big. Producers have also responded to consumer's demand for fresh and small serving by offering Nian Gao in a decorated box of a few smaller cups. Such Nian Gao are often used for private consumption or used as an offering.
As a gift item, Nian Gao are fashioned into different shapes with attractive packaging to suit the festivee season. Popular designs include a pair of carps 年年有余 symbolizing surplus every year, ingots 元宝, or the God of Wealth财神. These designs are auspicious symbols and sends good wishes for the New Year.
Some innovative producers have added a scratch area for consumers to reveal a lucky number for lottery bets.
Nian Gao’s popularity as a New Year gift is reflected through its sales channel. Elegantly packaged Niao Gao are sold in major hotels, through credit card promotions and in most major restaurants. These are usually given as corporate gifts or to special friends.
Nian Gao for home consumption or for ritual use can be found in almost any shops, supermarkets and definitely in the New year markets.
The production, sales and consumption of Nian Gao is another evidence of food as a transmission medium for social aspirations and how it can be shaped, packaged and promoted in varying forms to resonate with consumer’s social dreams.