Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year's Cakes (Nian Gow) at Shanghai Cafe

Many cultures have "good luck" dishes for the new year. In the American South it's traditional to eat Hoppin' John (black-eyed peas and rice) on New Year's day. In Italy the preferred New Year's food is lentils, often served with a sausage known as cotechino. In much of East Asia the New Year's items of choice are glutinous rice cakes of various sorts. The Japanese eat mochi, Koreans eat dduk, and Chinese people eat nian gow, literally "New Year's cake." Though there are Chinese sweet cakes known as nian gow, the kind I enjoyed this New Year's day are the chewy dumpling-like rice cakes, served sauteed or in soups, that are common in Shanghai cuisine, and which are basically the same as the Korean dduk. The glutinous rice flour is made into a cylinder and usually sliced into little ovals. I love the chewy consistency of Shanghai nian gow, and Shanghai Cafe, at 100 Mott Street in Chinatown, is one of the best places for them. It's run by a woman whose restaurant experience goes back to the legendary, now defunct Little Shanghai, which was perhaps Chinatown's first great Shanghai restaurant. The Shanghai rice cakes, as they're called on the menu, are sauteed with mixed meat and baby shrimp; one can also get rice cakes with mushrooms, single meats, or seafood. Shanghai Cafe is also as good a place as any in Manhattan for another Shanghai specialty, xiaolongbao (soup dumplings). A good place to sample Korean rice cakes is N.Y. Kom Tang Soot Bul House, at 32 E. 32nd Street, where every New Year's day they serve dduk kuk (rice cake soup) for free, a gesture which is intended to bring mutual good luck to proprietor and customer alike.

The proprietor of Word of Mouth wishes all his readers good luck for the new year.

Shanghai Café on Urbanspoon


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