Ciba is a sticky rice cake typically found in southern China. Few places still make it by hand, but Wang Shilong has been doing it for over a decade.
For 15 years, Wang Shilong has been making and selling ciba, a traditional Chinese cake made from pressed sticky rice, in Dafang, a remote town in southwestern China. His cakes are popular among locals, who call him for deliveries even when the store is closed.
Nowadays, he’s busier than ever as Chinese New Year approaches. Ciba is eaten across southern China, where it’s ritual to serve it during big celebrations like the new year. Its chewy, sticky texture is said to represent the closeness and kinship of families during the holidays.
Ciba is often eaten as a dessert, with a red bean filling or dipped in brown sugar or syrup. But people in Dafang prefer savory flavors and season their cakes with sesame seeds and salt.
Wang’s shop is special because he is one of few people who still makes it by hand instead of machines, as most shops do nowadays. Every morning, he gets up at 6 am to start the process.
Glutinous rice is first soaked overnight to soften. In the morning, he puts the soaked rice into a wooden pot and steams it. Once it’s steamed, he pounds the cooked sticky rice into a paste and then presses them into molds before letting them rest.
“We usually need about 150 kilograms of rice to make ciba every day,” Wang says. But for big festivals such as Chinese New Year, he’ll process over 500 kilograms.
It’s hard work, but he prefers it to machine-made ciba because it’s close to the cakes his parents and grandparents made, he says.
“We can taste the difference between handmade Ciba and made by machine, but nowadays, people only know the ones made by machine.” Wang said.