The New Year Cake, one of the offerings for the Gods during Spring Festival, has a metaphorical meaning of wishing for a better life year after year. Just as people in South China see steamed bread signifying fortune and people in North China see dumplings signifying gold bullions, rice cakes are a likewise symbol for this part of China.
According to one folk story, Dayu’s flood control brought people material comforts from the increases in crops. They used the grains and cereals which grew up in the rice field for making rice cakes to sacrifice.
Ningbo has a long history of making New Year Cake, dating back to Northern Song Dynasty. It was recorded that people used rice flour to make rice cakes at that time.
There are two known production processes. New Year Cakes can be made from dry powder. First, the rice is soaked then drained, and smashed into powder, steamed and crushed, then twisted into strips, and crushed flat. New Year Cakes can also be made grinded in water. First, the rice is soaked and ground in water until it turns pasty. It’s then drained, steamed, twisted into strips, and crushed flat. The latter method is said to taste better, but its production process is more complicated. Most families choose to use the dry powder recipe.
Feng Heng Da, a store established during the Qing Xianfeng period rose to prominence for its New Year Cakes, when Mr Chen, a master of smoked bean curd, on a whim, applied the artistry smoked bean curd production in New Year Cakes. The cake was glittering and translucent and had a special taste. It therefore greatly raised the popularity of Feng Heng Da. In December 2004, the store produced the biggest New Year Cake in China which was five metres in length, 30 centimetres in height and 2.3 tonnes in weight, setting a Guinness World Record.
Making New Year Cakes provides a chance for family gathering. Every member has his or her own duty: the old will light the fire, the women will steam the powder, the robust will smash and twist the powder, the kids will crush the marks of New Year Cakes. And thus New Year Cakes of various designs, sizes, and shapes keep this important folk custom fresh and vibrant even today.