the western new year is just a one day celebration but chinese new year, or spring festival, lasts for fifteen days! it’s one of my favourite festival because all troubles are thrown to the back of our heads and everybody just get together and have a real good time. i guess in that sense it’s a bit like christmas but as christmas is all about snowflakes, sparkly stars and pretty little things, chinese new year is all about boldness – bold colours, bold flavours, bold traditions.

and as we celebrate the dawn of spring and good harvest, food is an important aspect of the festival. so apart from some traditional customs, cath and i are sharing with you some real chinese recipes for our new year!

so first of, we have to tell you how proud we are to have done a spring clean of the whole house yesterday! our yearly big clean is done traditionally on ninyaabat – the 28th day of the last lunar month – and it’s believed to sweep away all the bad luck and prepare for all good fortunes in the new year. after a hard day’s work we jumped in to the bath with little yòuzi which is believed to promote good health as well as prosperity. oh yes, make sure the leaves are still on! i can’t explain why but it’s just another tradition we’re costomed to!

as it is the first day of new year, we spent all day making food, food, food, and more food! first, let me introduce you to my favourite – niángāo, which can be literally translated into year-cake and because of the pronunciation of the word, it’s symbolised for growth and achievement. my mum makes dozens of coconut niángāo each year but since Cath is not too keen on coconuts, we made a more traditional niángāo.

Traditional Niángāo

300g   glutinous rice flour
300g   brown sugar slabs [piàn táng]
1 tbs   coconut cream
490g   water
75g   wheat starch / gluten-free flour
1 tbs   ginger juice
a few goji berries

(makes 2   3.5″ x 7″ niángāo)

  1. bring water to the boil then melt the brown sugar slabs in the water over a medium-low heat.
  2. meanwhile grate a peeled ginger and squeeze out all the juice.
  3. once the brown sugar slabs have melted, leave it to one side to cool. once cooled, add the coconut cream and ginger juice.
  4. sieve glutinous rice flour and wheat starch together and stir in to the cooled brown sugar mixture in small quantities.
  5. once mixed, pour the mixture through the sieve twice to ensure a smooth, silky paste.
  6. lift up the paste bit by bit and drop them back to the bowl several times. this will make a more springy texture when cooked.
  7. pour into oiled containers, decorate with a few goji berries and steam for an hour.
best way to eat it is to eat it hot! but first, leave it to cool and refrigerate for at least two hours before slicing up (as this cake is unlike any other cake and will be impossible to cut when fresh). then, here is the trick! dip the 1cm slices into beaten eggs and fry over a medium-low heat til golden!

second up is cath’s favourite – the turnip cake [luóbo gāo]! it may be a cake but it’s a savoury cake and like the niángāo, it’s more like a pudding. but this pudding, oh my, this pudding is special! it’s packed full of flavour. it’s a bit more complex to make but it’s totally worth it if you like turnips, dried scallops and chinese sausages [lap cheong] – they’re like chorizo but better!

Grandma’s Turnip Pudding
750g   turnips
120g   rice flour
1   chinese sausage [lap cheong]
1   chinese liver sausage [ren cheong]
10g   dried shrimps
30g   dried scallops (soaked overnight with 125ml cold water)
a pinch of salt, pepper, sugar

(makes 8 servings)

  1. peel and shred turnips, saving any juice from the turnips.
  2. drain the soaked dried scallops, saving the juice, and tear them into tiny shreds.
  3. sieve rice flour and mix with the turnip juice and dried scallop juice.
  4. chop chinese sausages and liver sausages into small cubes.
  5. heat a wok over medium heat and add the chopped sausages, add dried shrimps and the scallop shreds when there’s oil from the sausages. stir-fry til golden and set aside.
  6. using the same wok, cook the shredded turnip til half cooked over a medium-low heat, then add the rice flour mixture and keep stirring til the mixture thickens into a paste.
  7. add a little bit of seasoning and the cooked sausages, shrimps and scallops into the turnip mixture. stir til well mixed and that the liquid is at least halved.
  8. pour into an oiled container and steam for 45 minutes.
garnish with some chopped spring onions and serve hot. or as cath likes it, pop it in the fridge overnight, chop them up into cubes and stir fry them with a little chilly oil. bon appétit !