“The tastiest, sweetest and stickiest nian gao is prepared using the traditional method,” said Lee, who uses banana leaves to wrap her glutinous rice cakes and bakes them to perfection on a wood fire.
Lee has been making nian gao for over 30 years.
“The texture is smooth and sticky yet firm.
“When you remove the banana leaf lining, the nian gao stays in shape and does not collapse,” she said.
When met at her home in Balik Pulau, Penang, Lee and sister-in-law Yen Soh Pei, 43, had just prepared 400 nian gao to steam for the day.
Lee and Yen started making them from 6am that day and expect to finish everything at 2am the following morning.
“After the steaming process and the clean-up work, we get only two hours’ sleep before the next day of work begins for us,” Lee said.
The process of making nian gao the traditional way can be long and tedious as each batch requires some 16 hours of work.
“The work starts with lining the tins with banana leaves.
“We have to collect and cut the banana leaves first and soften them by lightly burning them over a wood fire.
“Then we have to soak the pure glutinous rice and grind it.
“Finally, steam the batter over a wood fire for over 10 hours.
“We have to keep watch over the fire and the water in the wok.
“More water must be added every hour and a half.
“Each day, we produce 300 to 400 nian gao,” she added.
Lee said she learnt the traditional way of making nian gao from her grandmother when she was young.
“This is one of our Chinese traditions and we need to pass it down or else no one will remember in the future,” she said.
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