This is a Kuih Bakul aka Tni Kueh (Hokkien) aka Nin Ko (Cantonese) aka Nien Kao (Mandarin).
Whatever you call it, it is a must have during the Chinese New Year in traditional households where it is offered during prayers when sending the Kitchen God back to the Heavens. Legend has it that just before the Chinese New Year, the Kitchen God will return to the Heavens to table his report on each household. Realising that not all reports might be favourable, this sweet and sticky “cake” is offered either to glue the Kitchen God’s mouth shut so he can’t tell of your naughty exploits, or to sweeten his report. Either way, call it a bribe.
I buy this every year because there’s always been Tni Kueh in my house every Chinese New Year and I’m not one to buck tradition (although we don’t offer prayers at home). Besides, after the Chinese New Year, these cakes are then sliced up and eaten, either steamed or fried and they are so yummy! I might do something with this later and do a post or two.
This sweet sticky cake is made with sugar and flour and steamed traditionally in banana leaves for added fragrance. The mixture starts out white and later caramelizes into a dark brown colour. There are many taboos surrounding the steaming of this cake because I’m told that if not properly observed, the cake will not brown.
There are many commercial such cakes available these days in various shapes but I am a stickler for tradition so I only ever buy the ones steamed in banana leaves. They are more expensive but are tastier and usually home made.
On this note, I wish all Chinese and those of Chinese descent a very Happy and Prosperous Lunar New Year!
GONG XI FA CAI!
I’ll be away pigging out over the holidays but will be back with more food related posts in a week or so. In the meantime, have fun digging back through the archives!