Despite numerous varieties, they all share the same glutinous rice ingredient that is pounded or ground into a paste and, depending on the variety, may simply be molded into shape or cooked again to settle the ingredient. Nian gao has many varieties including the types found in Shanghai cuisine, and Cantonese cuisine originating from Guangdong.
The Shanghai style is usually packaged in a thick soft rod to be sliced up or packaged pre-sliced and either stir-fried or added to soup. Depending on the cooking method this style is a soft to a chewy variant. The Shanghai style keeps the nian gao white. The color is its distinct feature.
When served as a dish, the most common is the method, hence the name . There are three general types. The first is a savory dish, common ingredients include scallions, beef, pork, cabbage etc. The second is a sweet version using standard white sugar. The last version is taste-less, and is often consumed for its chewy textures.
The Guangdong variety is also called nian gao. It is sweetened, usually with brown sugar. It is distinct with a dark yellow color. The paste is poured into a cake pan and steamed once more to settle mixture. The batter is steamed until it solidifies and served in thick slices. It may be eaten as is. The nian gao becomes stretchy and extremely sticky. It can also be served as a flavored with rosewater or red bean paste.
The next stage is optional as it can be afterwards,often with egg, to make . When fried it is slightly crispy on the outside, and remains pasty on the inside. During Chinese new year, it is cut into square pieces and served along with similar cake dim sum dishes like taro cake and water chestnut cake.
Japan and Korea both have similar pounded glutinous rice foods, known as '''' and ''tteok'', respectively. Nian gao is also widely consumed in the Philippines during the Chinese New Year due to the country's large population of overseas Chinese from the Guangdong region. Nian gao is known as ''tikoy'' in the Philippines.
Different parts of Asia have mixed the cake with different ingredients such as red bean paste or even lotus seed paste. There are not considered to be main branches or major cuisine variations. Instead they should be thought of as creative modern flavors offered by local shops.
As soup ingredient
When used in soups, it is dropped in and boiled. There are a wide variety of soups that use nian gao.