The Lunar New Year, commonly known as Chinese New Year, is a time to celebrate with family, and food. Customs vary depending on where you are, but for our Cantonese family, there are some traditions we never fail to observe.
The Year of the Goat - Epic Fireworks, Flickr
Every year without fail, the family will make gou (糕), which is a type of Chinese ‘cake’. They are most commonly eaten during the Lunar New Year for good luck, as the word gou has the same pronunciation as the word for ‘tall’ or ‘high’.
Our family makes four different types: white radish (蘿蔔糕 lou bak gou), taro (芋頭糕 wu tao gou), water chestnut (馬蹄糕 maa tai gou), and a New Years cake (年糕 nin gou) made with brown sugar. These cakes are prepared by steaming, and are then sliced and pan-fried before eating. The New Years cake, in particular, is often dipped in whisked eggs before frying.
蘿蔔糕 - 挪威 企鵝, Flickr
Lou bak gou is made with daikon radish, or turnip, and rice flour. The radish is shredded and strained before it is mixed with rice flour and water, and then steamed until it forms a single, gelatinous cake. Additional ingredients, such as dried shrimp, dried shiitake mushrooms, and Chinese sausage can also be included.
It can then be served straight from the steamer, or allowed to cool before being cut into slices and pan-fried. Lou bak gou is commonly served with Hoisin sauce (Chinese plum sauce), and chilli sauce.
芋頭糕 - stu spivack, Flickr
Wu tao gou, or taro cake, is a denser cake made from the taro root and rice flour. It is made and served in a very similar way to lou bak gou, and can include additional Chinese sausage, dried shiitake mushrooms, and pork.
馬蹄糕 - tissue_fleur, Flickr
Unlike the previous two, maa tai gou is a sweet dish made from water chestnuts, water chestnut flour, and brown sugar. The water chestnuts are shredded and added to the flour and sugar mixture, before being poured into a pan and steamed.
It is translucent in appearance when heated, and opaque when cool, and the pieces of chestnut are visible within the cake itself. The cake is served warm, or pan-fried.
年糕 - Alpha, Flickr
Nin gou is also a sweet dish, made with rice flour and brown sugar. The flour and sugar are boiled until it caramelises into a dark yellow colour and then steamed until it solidifies. The cake can then be served straight from the steamer, or coated with whisked egg and pan-fried until crispy. It has a thick, pasty texture.
It is considered particularly auspicious to have nin gou on Lunar New Year, as the name is a homonym for prosperity year after year (年高).
New Years traditions embody a wealth of culture and history, and this is just one part of ours. What other New Years traditions have you observed?