Fermented Rice Cake (Jiu Niang Bing)

fermented rice cake

Fermented Rice Cake, known as “酒酿饼” in Chinese, is a traditional delicacy from Suzhou, Jiangsu province. It is a seasonal treat popular during the spring, with an appearance reminiscent of small mooncakes. The dough is leavened using clear rice wine, and due to climatic conditions, it is typically only available for sale during one season, with the best time to enjoy it being around the Qingming Festival.

This delectable cake comes in both meat and vegetarian varieties, featuring flavors such as rose, red bean paste, and mint. Ideally consumed warm, the distinctive characteristics of fermented rice cake include its sweet, tender, and chewy texture, along with its glossy appearance and vibrant color. The flavors are well-defined, creating a delightful culinary experience.

Legend has it that the tradition of eating fermented rice cake during the Cold Food Festival in Suzhou dates back to the end of the Yuan Dynasty. A man named Zhang Shicheng (1321–1367), seeking refuge with his elderly mother after unintentionally causing harm to someone, found himself in a dire situation during the Cold Food Festival. Unable to beg for food and starving for days, Zhang Shicheng’s mother fainted from hunger. Witnessing their plight, an elderly man, touched by the filial piety of Zhang Shicheng, generously made a cake using the only few dregs of rice wine he had at home. This act of kindness saved Zhang Shicheng’s mother from starvation.

Years later, when Zhang Shicheng rebelled against the ruling powers and declared himself king in Suzhou, he remembered the man who had saved his mother. In gratitude, he ordered the people to eat cakes made with rice wine during the Cold Food Festival, naming them “救娘饼” or “Mother-saving Cakes.” However, after Zhang Shicheng was captured by Zhu Yuanzhang and later died by suicide on the way to Ying Tianfu, people dared not use the name “Mother-saving Cakes.” Instead, they quietly changed it to “酒酿饼” (Fermented Rice Cake). Despite the alteration in name, the people of Suzhou maintained a sentimental connection to Zhang Shicheng and continued to associate the cake with his act of filial piety.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *