The Reason Fa Gao Is A Traditional Lunar New Year Food

Xin nian kuai le! As Metro explains, this is actually the proper way to say "Happy new year!" in Mandarin, while the more familiar greeting of "gong xi fa cai" actually conveys a wish for prosperity in the new year in the same language. "Gong hei fat choy" is the Cantonese version. 

We wish you both happiness and prosperity in the Year of the Tiger, and as tradition has it, there are numerous foods you can eat that will assure you have both. Among the lucky foods eaten for a lunar new year celebration is a whole chicken, feet and head included, which promotes family harmony. You can also enjoy longevity noodles, dumplings, spring rolls, and fish to symbolize the wealth that you wish to attract. Yet another prosperity-attracting dish is something called fa gao, which Food Network explains is a type of not-too-sweet steamed cake with a cracked top that lends this dessert a flower-like or fortune cookie type appearance.

The higher the fa gao rise the wealthier you may become

Kristina Cho, author of the cookbook "Mooncakes and Milk Bread," has her own nickname for fa gao, that being "Pau Pau's Steamed Cupcakes," because she was introduced to them by her grandmother in Hong Kong. She says they are also known as prosperity cakes, and explains that it's the "blooming" top that lends them this symbolic value. It seems that the higher and taller the "bloom" on top of the cake you eat on Lunar New Year, the more your wealth will grow in the months ahead.

Even though Cho refers to these as cupcakes, she says they're not really all that similar to the American version of the treat. For one thing, they are not frosted, since that would cover up their flower-petal tops, and the flavor is less like a cake and more like a pancake. The reason, Cho reveals, is that she and her Pau Pau actually use pancake mix in the fa gao batter. In Hong Kong, many people use a self-rising baking mix meant specifically for fa gao, but when Cho's Pau Pau immigrated to the U.S., she couldn't find it. Instead, she made the happy discovery of an almost identical product found in nearly every U.S. supermarket: Bisquick pancake mix! Mix Bisquick, flour, brown sugar, and water, then pop the fa gao in a bamboo steamer and soon they'll be ready to help usher in a prosperous new year.