Good Luck Chinese New Year Cake
Superstition, or belief in an abundant year?
Chia-Li Chien | Jan. 15, 2011
A traditional Chinese year occurs in the lunar calendar, and this year the Chinese New Year will be on February 3, 2011. There are many things a Chinese family will prepare for their New Year’s Eve, as well as New Year’s Day. When I was growing up, I was always in and out of the kitchen, helping my mother to prepare her 12-course New Year’s Eve dinner. Each dish had a significant meaning for bringing good luck in many areas. There were also many items not included in the 12-course meal, to be presented outside the meal in worship of our ancestors as well as God, showing our appreciation of what they had provided for us. Those items were eaten on New Year’s Day, and included Good Luck New Year Cake and Abundance Cake.
I’ve been living in the U.S. since 1988, and finding these cakes is very challenging. My husband T.C. and I used to drive to China Town in Flushing Queens, New York to find these cakes. Most of the time, we returned empty-handed because the people living in that area got them before we did. For years, it has been hit or miss getting those delicious cakes. Lately, I had just decided to forget about the cakes.
My mother-in-law Lily has prepared the New Year Cake for many years, and occasionally, we get one, depending on if there is a U.S. holiday around the Chinese New Year. On different years, we may or may not get to her house for the New Year dinner. Actually, I have to admit, we never made it in twenty years of marriage. But last year we did, and Lily taught me how to make the Abundance Cake, and I’ve been making them throughout 2010 and sharing them with many of my clients and friends. I have become quite good at making the Abundance Cakes and make them almost on a monthly basis. Last Christmas, Lily taught me how to make the New Year Cake, my daughter’s favorite.
New Year Cake , 年糕 pronounced “Nian Gao” is a sweet steamed glutinous rice-like cake. Ingredients include dark brown sugar, hot water, banana extract and sticky rice flour. There are ready-mix packages, but the end product is not as good. I make mine from scratch. And see my “Nian Gao” next to a rabbit in the photo? (left) That’s because 2011 is the year of rabbit.
Abundance Cake 發糕 pronounced “Fa Gao” is like a muffin but steamed. Ingredients include rice flour, sugar, flour and banana extract, or you can get a ready-mix for them now. I think the package mix is pretty good. The secret lies on the degree of “steam” from your pot. Here is my “Fa Gao” next to a rabbit. (right)
By looking at these recipes, one would think either cake should be easy to make. So why do people who live in China or Taiwan still buy these from stores? Well, according to my mom, who never made these cakes, you don’t want to take a chance of making them at home. What if it did not rise? You see, both cakes are supposed to bring good luck if they rise properly. Therefore, many families transfer that risk to their bakery and simply buy them.
Well, that explains how many people take a chance in starting a business and exiting it successfully. In many small businesses, we don’t really know the ingredients or recipes of how to make our business successful. It does not come with a ready-mix package (except for perhaps franchised or licensed businesses). Even if you have the recipes, you still have to master the degree of “steam” (power, fire or energy) to produce consistent results year in and year out.
What I like about these cakes is that they can give my clients an affirmation of action mode. Within a strong 1-year action plan is a visual picture of what success looks like. Putting it into action results in the sweet taste of success. My clients who have accepted these sweet cakes and tasted them are the same clients who continuously taste success in their businesses. They’ve enjoyed a rapid growth in their businesses, along with top percentiles of net profit in their industries. Is this a Chinese superstition or simply believing that you are and will be successful?
Well if “luck is when preparation meets opportunities,” you should probably ask yourself if your preparations are consistent and if you know what to do when opportunities appear. Or do you even know where to look for opportunities?
If you want to experience the sweet taste of these cakes, well, the cakes they are not for sale. I personally make them to show my appreciation to my clients. You are welcome to have one, too, if you want to experience the sweet taste of success.
Chia-Li Chien, CFP®, CRPC, PMP; helps entrepreneurs to creating business value that transforms their world. She is the author of Show Me The Money and columnist for WomenEntrepreneur.com & Fox Business online. She is available for consulting, speaking engagements and workshops. She can be reached at http://www.chialichien.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.