Chinese New Year Pudding


Called nian gao in Mandarin and nin go in Cantonese, this sticky pudding is eaten all over China during the Chinese New Year because of the punning symbolism around the sound gao or go, which means both pudding and to grow. The consumption of this food is thus an act beckoning the physical growth of one’s children, or the growth of one’s business, if not more explicitly, of one’s pile of banknotes! Symbolism aside, I love the viscous texture half sticking to my teeth.


  • 10 pieces or 350 g (12 oz) Chinese brown sugar (labelled brown sugar in pieces)
  • 750 ml ( pints/3 cups) cold water
  • 115 g (4 oz/¾ cup) cornflour
  • 450 g (1 lb/ cups) glutinous rice flour (labelled powder)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 red date, pitted


  1. Put the pieces of sugar into a saucepan and add 300 ml (10 fl oz/ cups) of the cold water. Slowly bring to a simmer, then continue to cook letting the sugar dissolve completely. Remove from the heat. Add the remaining water and leave the liquid to cool.
  2. In a large mixing bowl add the cornflour to the glutinous rice flour and mix well. Add a pinch of salt. With a large wooden spoon, make a well in the centre of the mixture, gradually pour in the sugar liquid and draw in the flour to mix until thoroughly homogenised. The mixture becomes quite runny in consistency. Stir in 15 ml (1 tbsp) of the oil.
  3. Brush a round cake tin or enamel dish about 24 cm ( in) in diameter and 4 cm ( in) high with the remaining oil – no need to use all of it. Place a close wire sieve over it and strain the rice flour mixture through the sieve to ensure there are no lumps in the mixture.
  4. Place the tin or dish in a steamer and steam for 3 hours until the pudding is done. After 2½ hours, you can start checking by piercing the pudding with a sharp instrument. If it comes out smooth and clean, the pudding is ready. Insert the red date in the centre of the pudding, half burying it. Remove the tin or dish from the steamer and let cool.
  5. Cut the pudding into slices and serve warm. It is sticky in consistency, so bear this in mind when you cut it.