Jakarta. And once again, the Chinese New Year or Imlek will take place in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the pandemic, Imlek is never without its lucky sweet treat, the nian gao.
Most Indonesians know nian gao as kue keranjang (basket cakes).
Eating the nian gao on Imlek is believed to bring prosperity. Its round shape, sweet taste, sticky consistency are also a symbol of how families stick together, according to Suwardi, the owner of the Kue Keranjang Hoki, a nian gao business in Depok.
It was in 1988 when Kue Keranjang Hoki began selling the chewy Imlek staple. Suwardi had inherited the recipe for a tradionally made nian gao from a relative. Ingredients are simply as follows: white sugar, water, and gluitinous rice flour.
“Melt sugar in water. Mix it with glutinous rice flour until it is thick. We cook [the nian gao] in a bamboo basket, so it has a distinctive aroma. And the cooking process would take about 16 hours,” Suwardi recently told Jakarta Globe over text.
“So no preservatives, coloring or artificial sweeteners.”
Kue Hoki offers a variety of nian gao, which differ in glutinous rice flour and wrapping, among other things. Kue Hoki’s original nian gao uses local gluitinous rice flour, compared to the Thailand super glutinous rice flour on the Monas variant, according to Suwardi.
There are also many ways to enjoy this Chinese delicacy. Some eat the nian gao right away. Others fry the nian gao. We can steam the nian gao and shred some coconut on top. Another option is to serve nian gao with the creamy treat kolak.
The nian gao is much sought after when Imlek is close approaching. Kue Hoki, however, does not only sell this dessert during the Imlek season.
“We also sell them when Eid al-Fitr is nearing. In terms of business, the nian gao may be seasonal, but luckily we have our own market segment,” Suwardi said.
Kue Keranjang Hoki is also making the best use of online platforms to reach new customers online, whereas its offline sales mostly come from long-time regulars. It first started selling nian gao by word of mouth or going door to door.
“It was my kids’ idea to use online platforms. They thought times had changed. Social media and online marketplaces can help better promote Kue Hoki,” Suwardi said.
Many Imlek have passed since Kue Hoki sold its first nian gao in 1988. And this decades-old business is about to enter another mid-pandemic Imlek on Feb. 1.
“Like many others, our business is seeing a decline in production in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. But compared to 2021, our business is starting to show signs of recovery,” Suwardi told the Globe.
But the pandemic is still far from over.
Kue Keranjang Hoki puts its hopes on the government’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout success. “So people’s economy can get back on its feet,” Suwardi said.
Indonesia is aiming to vaccinate 208,265,720 people. The Health Ministry data shows that as of Monday, Indonesia has administered about 184,680,997 first doses, marking a 88.68 percent coverage. The second-dose vaccination coverage stands at 128,028,074 doses or about 61.47 percent.
Indonesia has also given 4,221,642 third vaccine doses, meaning that 2.03 percent of the targeted population have gotten their booster shot.