Chinese Rice Cake Recipe

Chinese Rice Cake Treat Recipe

When the Chinese New Year comes around the whole country starts making a cake called Nian Gao. “Nian” means sticky and “Gao” means cake, but this simple description doesn’t cover the immense meaning that comes with the delicacy.

If you know anything about the Chinese language, you’ll also know that most words have a second meaning. This I will talk about later.

Nian Gao goes by many other names, like Kuih Bakul, New Years Cake and even Glutinous Rice Cake (check out our rice noodle recipe), but whichever name you use, this mouth watering snack is a universal treat to millions of people.

The ingredients list is short, and the steps to create this cake are easy, the only thing that might put you off is the time it takes to cook. That’s right, I said cook, not bake, as this Chinese dessert (check out our chinese dessert recipes) is not at all the same as an American one. 

If you want to learn more about Nian Gao and the culture that comes with it, while you chow down on your sticky rice cake, scroll down to the bottom of this recipe and learn about the roots of this historical delight.

Nian Gao Recipe

The amount of banana leaves you need for the recipe depends on the sizes you can get. Read through the steps and see if you can estimate the amount you will need for your cake. If in doubt, buy more than you need. You can always make more Nian Gao!

Serving Size2 Cakes
Total Cooking Time3 Days and 13 Hours

If you want to make more than 2 cakes then double up the recipe. The ingredients are easy to multiply, so don’t worry about the increase.


  • Banana Leaves
  • Glutinous Rice Flour – 1 cup or 220 g (give our sticky rice balls recipe a trial)
  • Sugar – 1 ½ cups or 300 g
  • Water – 1 cup or 220 g


  1. Soak the banana leaves in warm water for 30 minutes or longer.
  2. Once soaked, cut the banana leaves so they can fit into the container or ramekin you want to individually present them in.
  3. Place the banana leaves into the ramekin so the leaves face upwards. You want to create a smooth surface that contains no gaps between the wall of the container and the base of the container. Make sure that you are using at least 2 layers of banana leaves.
  4. Pour the water into a large bowl and sift in the flour too.
  5. Mix these ingredients together until you get a dough.
  6. Add in the sugar and mix until the dough turns into a fluid.
  7. Let the mixture rest for around 15 minutes.
  8. Pour the liquid mixture into the banana leaf ramekin. Do this slowly to avoid getting air bubbles.
  9. Put a piece of cloth over the ramekins and steam the cakes for 10 to 12 hours.
  10. Let the Nian Gao sit for 2 to 3 days in your refrigerator.
  11. Enjoy!

What To Be Aware Of When Making Nian Gao

With such a long cooking process, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were worried about storing the Kuih Bakul and keeping it from going off. Don’t worry, I have a couple of tips to stop your Nian Gao from going wrong.

How Should I Store The Nian Gao?

The best place to store your Nian Gao is in the refrigerator. Ideally, after the steaming process has been completed, you should cool it in a room temperature space and then put it in an airtight container.

The best airtight containers are food-grade silica gel packs. They are perfect because they prevent moisture from touching the Nian Gao as it dries.

Why Is There Mold On My Nian Gao?

If mold has crept onto your Nian Gao, then it wasn’t properly dried. Moisture has touched the rice cake, which is why the mold has started to grow.

Depending on the extent of the mold, it is safe for you to remove the issue and continue to store the rice cake. To do this, you should use a damp cloth and wipe off the contaminant. Then keep the Nian Gao in a silica gel pack.

Cultural History of Nian Gao

There is a lot of culture in this beautiful snack, which is why it continues to be made every year. There are some strange taboos, snippets of history, and bouts of symbolizing that come with the rice cake; let me show you.

Traditional Taboos When Making Nian Gao

I haven’t included this in the “what to be aware of” section because the modern-day person will know that these Taboos were rooted in terrible stereotypes and discrimination. But that doesn’t mean we can’t listen and learn about the culture the cake (you will also enjoy our special red bean mooncake recipe) has come from.

Taboo #1 – No Fighting

The first taboo is around fighting. You shouldn’t bicker or quarrel while the cooking process is taking place. Doing so would cause the Nian Gao to fail. 

This might be due to the disturbance in the kitchen, adding unwanted bubbles to the rice cake’s texture. Or this could be to create a forced harmony in the house at least once a year.

Taboo #2 – No Periods

It was once believed that women who were on their menstrual cycle couldn’t make a perfect Nian Gao. 

I can’t find a reasonable explanation for this, but many cultures find a woman’s cycle distasteful. Unfortunately, this practice still continues today.

The Legend Behind Nian Gao

The legend goes that the Kitchen God watched over the people of China, hearing their conversations, judging their opinions, and snooping on the everyday life of commoners. The Kitchen God would take this information to the Jade Emperor at the beginning of every year. 

Of course, the commoners didn’t want the Jade Emperor to learn how they would bicker and misunderstand each other. So before the Kitchen God made his yearly trip, an offering of Nian Gao was made. When the deity ate this treat, he found that his lips had been sealed cut!

Eventually, he made his way to the Jade Emperor, and when asked if the commoners were bad, the deity wouldn’t speak. 

And so, the Chinese families would still be seen as good and peaceful in the eyes of the Jade Emperor. 

The Second Meaning Behind The Name “Nian Gao”

There is another reason why Nian Gao is a perfect new year treat, and it comes with the second meaning of the name.

“Nin Gou” means Higher By The Year, so eating this delicious treat is a symbol of hope that all the achievements you have completed in the year were better than the year before. Reaching higher and doing better as the years go by. 

Our special bak kwa recipe is another delicious recipe I strongly recommend for you.

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