Giant niangao for the New Year

For those who believe that bigger is better, this Chinese New Year might be the time to buy a giant niangao, a sweet and sticky rice cake.

Life! found some enormous versions of the cake - 22kg ones from Kam Boat Teochew Restaurant in Orchard Parade Hotel and 18kg ones from Sheng Siong supermarkets.

Niangao is often seen as auspicious to the Chinese as its name in Mandarin suggests rising prosperity and promotion.

The glutinuous rice used to make it symbolises a family that stays together, while its sugary flavour signifies a sweet start to the year.

In Taoism, niangao is believed to be an offering to the Kitchen God, who returns to heaven to report on the household and its activities.

The sticky cake is believed to glue the Kitchen God's mouth together so that he would not be able to give a bad report.

Kam Boat Teochew Restaurant's giant niangao weighs 22kg. It is 40cm in diameter and 10cm high. The restaurant's head chef takes three days to make each one.

The two-tier dish, called the Treasure Prosperity Platter, features three large cream-coloured carps, each weighing 800g. At the bottom are eight small carps encircling the dish.

Despite costing $688 each, the restaurant has received more than 10 orders for the dish and has stopped taking orders. Its general manager Kong Mei Ling, 56, says in Mandarin that it made the giant niangao earlier this year as a decoration to place at the entrance of the restaurant.

When customers asked if they could order it, the restaurant decided to start selling it.

Customers, she says, buy the niangao to display at their offices or homes. She says: "Some customers feel the bigger the niangao, the more luck it will bring them."

Diners and passers-by, she adds, also take photos with the giant niangao as a keepsake or as an auspicious start to the new year. The restaurant has been making 10kg niangao, priced at $388 each, for several years.

Sheng Siong supermarkets have been selling its 18kg niangao for $388 each at its 35 outlets since last year, in response to customers' demand.

Each is 36cm in diameter and 10cm high. Made with glutinous rice flour, sugar and water, each is wrapped with banana leaf and features an auspicious saying.

The supermarket's second largest niangao weighs 1.2kg and costs $12.80.

The giant niangao is produced by Goods Huat Hee Confectionary, a Singapore company which has large steamers in Johor Baru that can fit 500 medium- sized niangao, each weighing 600g, at the same time.

But the company's owner, Mr Koh Choon Lai, 51, says these steamers can fit only 10 giant niangao at a time, due to their large size.

He adds that the giant niangao need to be steamed at low heat for at least 12 hours so the heat can reach the centre, compared to medium-sized ones which need only 10 hours to steam.

Apart from Sheng Siong, Mr Koh's company also supplies giant niangao to its corporate clients, which are mostly big companies or temples.

This year, it has sold over 100 giant niangao, 30 more than last year.

Mr Koh says: "Most buyers want to display the giant niangao in the office or at home. It's usually not for eating.

"Big companies, in particular, want to impress their staff and guests with the size of the niangao. To the Chinese, bigger is often better."

When placed in a cool dry place, the niangao can keep for about six months.

This article was first published on Feb 19, 2015.
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