Rice Cake and the Monster?

The week before last week, China ushered in the Lunar New Year. This year, the zodiac is the rooster. People who were born in roster year is always concerned to be frank but strict based on the old folk beliefs.

As usual, Chinese people like eating rice cake during their new year reunion dinner time. So here comes a quiz for you:

Which is the best reason of Chinese’s tradition of the New Year to eat rice cakes?

A. China used to be poor. The rice cake is made by the sticky rice which may be affordable for most of the people.

B. There is an old legend says that people made rice cake every lunar new year day to resist the attacks from an ancient monster called Nian.

C. Chinese ancient emperors like to eat rice cakes, so they promote people to eat the rice cake to celebrate the new year.

D.Rice cakes are delicious and easy to digest.

Which one do you think is right?

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The correct answer is B.

Based on the ancient Chinese folk legend, a giant monster called Nian (年, means “year” in Chinese) lived in the deep mountains and forests. Nian seldom went outside and caught other animals as foods when it felt hungry. However, in winter time, most animals are hiding dormant. Nian had nothing to eat. So it went down to the nearby villages. It hurt and seized people as food. People did not even dare to go outside. Later, a clever family named Gao, they asked people to hit the cooked glutinous rice with a hammer and twisted them into strips. People then hanged those sticky rice strips out their doors. “Nian” could not find people to eat, so it ate all the rice strips on the door and returned to the mountains. After the monster had been gone, people went out of their houses to congratulate that they had escaped Nian’s attack and celebrating for a peaceful new year. The sticky rice strips then named as “Nian Gao (年糕, the rice cake).” This habit had continued and finally became a new year tradition in China.

However, a legend is always a legend, people nowadays in China beliefs more on that rice cake can bring good luck for their family because the rice cake’s Chinese pronunciation is quite similar to another word which contains a meaning of “go higher each year.”

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Because of China’s vast territory, large population and long history of rice cakes, the ways to eat rice cake is quite different in each main regions. I was born in Beijing, but my dad came from Hunan province (the south of China), and my mom is from Xinjiang province (the northwest of China), so there are two more ways to eat the rice cakes in my own family. Rice cake can be steamed, fried, or boiled with other ingredients as a main dish on table. It can also be the best sweet dessert after dinner by adding fillings inside or sprinkling different types of syrups over it. Moreover, rice cakes are tasty in hot pot, too.

The South Korea and Japan, as the neighborhoods of China, they also have the tradition of eating rice cake during their new year time. We share the similar but not the same recipes on rice cakes.

Rice cake in the South Korea is more like a short white stick, which is also made with the sticky rice. They will cook the rice cakes with kimchi and Korean chili sauce, the taste is spicy but also a bit sweet.

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In Japan, one of the rice cake is made with glutinous rice flour or Glutinous rice. People will bake rice cakes on the fire. When the central part appears with a big bubble, the rice cake is ready to eat. Topped the rice cakes with soy sauce, soy flour, or roll with roasted seaweed are all very traditional approaches.

Actually, rice cakes can be easily found in West Lafayette. Better World Market locates near the Tapawingo Park, which will take you about 15 minutes to walk there from the PMU. Some simple basic cooking recipes can be easily found online. I have already found some for you and attached them below!

Just try it and happy Chinese Lunar New Year!

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