Rice Ovalettes with Pork and Vegetables Stir Fry Recipe (Chao Nian Gao)
This pork and vegetable stir fry with Korean rice ovalettes is loaded with colorful vegetables, and very satisfying. It’s free of 6 out of 8 top allergens and can be easily adapted to be soy free and/or gluten free as needed.
Every time my mom and I went to her favorite Taiwanese restaurant on Clement St. in San Francisco, she always ordered Chow Nian Gao, a sticky rice cake (nian gao) stir fry with meat and vegetables, always hot and steamy, always delicious and comforting, and always our routine at least once or twice a week for 4 months. My father was hospitalized or in and out of skilled nursing facilities at the time and because he was clinging to life and we were on survival mode visiting him at least daily. Despite the stress, our meals at the Taiwanese restaurant was a necessary mental health break from the hospital and the cafeteria food. It was our time to talk and hope for the best outcome for my father. My dad ended up surviving his illness, walked me down the aisle, and held his grandson before he passed away a few years later.
Personal Lessons from a Stir Fry
Chow nian gao is just a stir fry, but it’s a dish where a little bit of chopping, high heat, and hot water transform hard and dry rice cakes into delicious bites that are slightly charred, soft, but chewy savory goodness. In the same way, my dad’s life threatening illness transformed my life and death fears into emotional resilience, pushed me into advocacy, and my only option was to have faith and hope for healing and restoration. Who would have thought that I needed these qualities as a mom? Whenever I make my own version of this dish, I am reminded that the figurative heat and hot water in our lives can transform the hard times into beautiful moments. Do you have dishes or recipes that remind you of a transforming moment or a special person in your life? Share your story in the comments.
What are Sticky Rice Cakes?
Sticky rice cakes (nian gao in Chinese and tteok in Korean) are made from ground up sweet rice that is formed into a dough that is steamed, pounded, shaped, and sliced. There are two different kinds, dried hard ones in the dried noodle section of an Asian market and fresh vacuumed sealed ones in the refrigerated area where they keep other noodles. I personally find the fresh ones a little bit easier to use but the dried ones are shelf stable in a pantry for convenience. Some people just rinse and throw the fresh ones into their stir fry with a splash of water or broth but my results are inconsistent and sometimes too chewy even when I cook in smaller batches. I like to boil the fresh ones for a couple of minutes, scoop them out with a strainer (affiliate link) or a large slotted spoon (affiliate link), and then add them directly into the stir fry. If you can only find the dried ones, just soak them for 24 hours before using.
Allergy Aware Asian Fare
- The only top 8 allergens in this recipe as written are soy and wheat due to soy sauce or stir fry sauce.
- If one is allergic to gluten or wheat, look for tamari soy sauce (made without wheat) or gluten free soy sauces.
- If one is allergic to soy, then try my soy-free soy sauce recipe or check out some options for soy sauce alternatives.
- You can also substitute different vegetables, a traditional version of this recipe would contain rehydrated shitake mushrooms and cabbage cooked with lots of oil and soy sauce.
- I prefer a lighter and reduced sodium stir fry and one of my sons can’t eat mushrooms which leaves pale cabbage with pale noodles, tasty but lacks visual appeal so I added some carrots and baby bok choy for color and texture. You can stir fry vegetables that take longer to cook at step 9 and crunchy fast cooking vegetables at step 12.
- I added product information for a rice ovalette made in a rice only facility, thus top 8 allergen free and gluten free in “What’s In Nut Free Wok’s Cupboard?“
The recipe as written is peanut free, tree nut free, dairy free, egg free, shellfish free, and fish free. Please check ingredient labels carefully for allergen safety before consuming.
Rice Ovalettes with Pork and Vegetables Stir Fry Recipe (Chao Nian Gao)
- 1 package rice oval cakes about 2 pounds
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 sweet onion chopped
- 3-4 carrots julienne (1.5 cups)
- 2-3 cloves garlic minced
- 10-12 baby baby bok choy. chopped
- 4 stalks scallions chopped
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoon of dark soy sauce or stir fry sauce
If using dried rice cakes, soak in a large bowl of cold water for 24 hours and drain.
If using fresh rice cakes, separate the pieces of rice cakes that are stuck together and set aside.
Start boiling a large pot of water.
Combine ground pork with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar and mix.
Add cornstarch to the pork, stir, and set aside.
Wash and prep vegetables (onion, carrots, baby bok choy, and scallions) and mince garlic.
Heat up wok, large stainless steel frying pan (need to work in 2 batches), or 6 qt or larger pot on medium heat until a drop of water sizzles.
Add oil and swirl pan to coat, add onions, stir fry for 2 minutes until slightly browned.
Add carrots, stir fry for 1 minute.
Add garlic stir fry for 1 minute.
Raise temperature to medium high, add pork mixture, stir fry for 5-6 minutes until no longer pink.
Meanwhile boil the rice cakes in water for 3 minutes, stirring once in awhile.
Add scallions and bok choy to the pork and vegetables and stir fry 1 minute.
When the rice cakes start floating, use a slotted spoon or strainer to transfer the noodle cakes directly into the wok.
Add 2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce or stir fry sauce and keep stir-frying for a minute or two until the sauce is absorbed.
Serve family style in a large platter.
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Sharon, this looks down right fantastic! LOVE it. Pinned.
Thanks, Michelle! I’m so glad you love it and thanks for pinning it! 🙂
I love the story you’ve associated with the meal. There are certain food that bring back strong memories for me also. Speaking of food….this looks amazing! Love it!
Thank you, Debra! Food can be such a sensory experience that remind us of important people and events. Enjoy the recipe!
I love stir frys and grew up eating them. They are such a great way to clean veggies our of your fridge. Your recipe looks yummy and I’m pinning for later.
Yes, you can definitely substitute whatever available vegetables you have on hand, small amounts add up to a lot of variety! 😉
Yum, I love Stir Fry. Yours looks delicious!
Thanks so much Jillian! Enjoy 🙂
This stir fry looks delicious! I love rice cakes – I have never tried cooking with them though. I really should because they are one of my favorite things to order out to eat!
Awesome Cate, you already know how good they are to eat. Have fun trying out my recipe. 🙂
This stir fry sounds delicious! I’ve never cooked with rice oval cakes before. Pinning to give it a try!
hi..was wondering what brand of nian gao you buy? I usually buy the Wang brand, but haven’t had a chance to check if their peanut/treenut free. Thanks!
Hi Cat! I buy the ones distributed by Walong and I might have used other products by Wang brand as well. It’s been awhile since I contacted Walong and I can’t remember if I contacted Wang, so I recommend that everyone check for their allergens at least before using the first time.
This is a traditional Shanghainese dish. The rice oval cakes are from Shanghai brought to Korea, so these are not Korean oval rice cakes. Otherwise, thanks for sharing. Looks great and will try to make them.
Thanks for sharing. My husband’s family is from Shanghai and I’ve been told that their version of chao nian gao is sweeter and saltier with a lot more sauce. My recipe is more like what you would find in a Cantonese kitchen but I do prefer the Korean ovalettes. I prefer to buy the ovalettes from Korean stores or distributors because they are easy to use more so than the Chinese ovalettes. I love it that there are so many ovalette options and many recipes in which to enjoy them.