Tan Chui Huai, 65, (left) and Rosliza often help Tan’s family to make Nian Gao. Photo: Bernama

BACHOK: The upcoming Chinese New Year celebration is the best time to enjoy that delicious and mouth-watering kuih bakul or better known as Nian Gao or new year cake as this is when this traditional delicacy will make an appearance in our Chinese neighbours’ houses.

Nian Gao, with that soft, sweet, gooey texture and often served steamed and sometimes as fritters (fried with slices of yam or sweet potato), can be purchased easily at supermarkets but nothing can beat the homemade version as it is prepared with care and love.

One of the Nian Gao makers, Tan Tiaw Pheng, who sticks to traditional methods, has shared his unique way of preparing the delicacy with Bernama recently.

Tan, 33, has stuck to his family’s tradition by using a stone grinder to obtain the smooth and fine texture of glutinous rice flour — the main ingredient of Nian Gao.

Together with his mother Kam Guat Thee, 65, they work side by side to process more than 50 kilogrammes of the ingredient over four hours until the texture become smooth.

Tan and his mother Kam still use traditional methods when making Nian Gao. Photo: Bernama

  “We have been using this stone grinder for five generations to produce a finer texture of the mixture compared to using electrical appliances,” he said when met at his home in Kampung Pantai Kemayang, Tawang here yesterday.

“On a normal day we produce about 20 kilogrammes of kuih bakul weekly but the demand is always multiplied during Chinese New Year,” he said, adding that it would take five days to produce high quality Nian Gao and the process starts with soaking the glutinous rice overnight.

“Soaking the glutinous rice already takes a whole night, grinding and drying it will take another night and the most challenging part is to steam it for over 15 hours before letting it cool for another night,” he explained.

The finely ground glutinous rice will be kept in a sack, clipped with nibong wood and it will be hanged to dry.

The rice flour is then mixed with sugar and put into a special mould layered with two or three banana leaves to bring about the nice banana leaves aroma when it is steamed in a large wok using wood fire for 15 hours.

Tan Chui Huai, 65, (left) and Rosliza often help Tan’s family to make Nian Gao. Photo: Bernama

“Hygiene is the most important thing, otherwise the end product would not taste as good. Equally important is to observe some pantang-larang (taboo) during the steaming process, such as to avoid from asking too many questions or the Nian Gao will become too hard or uncooked,” he explained.

Tan produces three sizes of kuih bakul which are sold for RM18 per kg and his customers will self-pick the order from his residence and he does not have plans to accept bigger orders in order to maintain the quality.

Other than Nian Gao, the family also makes budu (fermented anchovies sauce) using traditional methods which is well received by the local population.

One of Tan’s neighbours, Rosliza Hassan, 47, said the neighbours liked to help the family to make the Nian Gao and budu, and they also frequently exchange recipes.

“We came to help as this is how we forge close friendships over the years, especially during the festive season,” she said, adding that Nian Gao is best served by deep frying it or to mixing it with grated coconut while it is still piping hot. – Bernama