I am happy! You know why? Because I will be celebrating Chinese New Year (CNY) in China, PROPERLY this time – the Year of Snake officially kicks off on the 10th February 2013, although unofficially, the celebrations are already well under way.
Since I arrived in the UK in 1988, I have lived in the West for two dozens of years where CNY usually comes and goes in a flash. At best, families and friends get together for a party and a feast in their house or at a chosen restaurant. Sometimes, simple fare at home would have to suffice, due to pressure from work, or the general lack of atmosphere and excitement where we find ourselves in another country.
Anyway, as a Sichuan native and some kind of foodie myself, I usually try and make the best of this special occasion. I have had my fair share of hosting CNY parties, in Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham, in my tiny bedsits or in shared student accommodation, and more recently in my homes in various locations. I’m devoting this post to sharing a few wonderful dishes I especially crave at this time of the year. There are treats that people all over China would enjoy at this time, while there are also regional/Provincial specialities.
Sweet Sticky Rice Dumpling – Tang Yuan (汤圆)
This is one of my all time favourite foods. I remember that as a child, I eagerly awaited for the Spring Festival (CNY as commonly referred to in China). Even in the years when food was scarce and special treats were rare, Tang Yuan was a heavenly treat. At the most difficulties times when millions of Chinese people were starving, we had to have Tang Yuan at this time, with or without fillings or sugar.
In Sichuan, especially in our Capital Chengdu, we’ve perfected our Tang Yuan over its long history. We filled the glutinous rice ball with delicious sesame seeds, peanuts, sweet bean paste, dates, scented osmanthus flowers and tangerine peel. If you ever visit Chengdu, you must try Lai Tang Yuan.
In Northern China, Tang Yuan is often called Yuan Xiao (元宵), and they tend to make it savoury, with minced meat and seasonal vegetables.
During my early years living in the UK, I used to make my own fillings, using peanut butter, chocolate sauce, various jam and roasted nuts. Nowadays, I’ve become reliant on my local Chinese supermarket and buy packets of ready-made Tang Yuan, with different fillings mentioned above. All I have to do is to boil them for a few minutes and the dish is ready! If I can be bothered, as I usually can, I’d add an egg, a few spoonful of sweet fermented rice (甜酒釀 ‘tian jiu niang’ or 醪糟 ‘lao zao’), and sprinkle on a few goji berries. They are divine!
Chinese Dumplings (饺子)
Chinese dumplings go back a very long time, with a nearly 2000 year history, and are loved by all Chinese people. I have written about this before and shared many photos and a special spicy recipe. If you have not seen the video, click on the link below and check on A Delicious Taster from Land of Hope – Making Beijing Dumplings.
Making Chinese Dumplings
Spring Roll (春卷 )
I am sure that many of you would have tasted this Chinese speciality in Chinese restaurants. Spring rolls are a dim sum dish, with vegetables or meat, either sweet or savoury. Having filled in the spring roll made from a flour pastry, you can either shallow or deep fry them, until golden. Naturally, their name came from the Chinese New Year Celebration which take place in Spring and which comes much earlier than in the West.
Glutinous Rice Cake /Nian Gao( 年糕 )
In Chinese, Nian Gao sounds like “getting higher year after year”, which is very lucky. Main ingredients of Nian Gao are sticky rice, sugar, chestnuts, Chinese dates and lotus leaves. Again, there are regional variations on the recipes, and the most distinctive ones are Northern, Jiangnan (South of Yangtze River), Fujian, Taiwan and Cantonese. Even Japan and Korea have their own styles of Nian Gao.
In Chinese, fish (Yu) sounds like ‘save more’, and due to the Chinese nature of saving for the rainy days and especially towards the end of the year, so they can hope to make more money the next year. Because of this, a fish dish is a must on any CNY banquet, no matter how it’s cooked.
There is a Chinese saying: 年年有余 (nian nian you yu) – May you always get more than you ever wish for!
With this good wish, I conclude today’s post. Please come back soon, as I will be sharing more stories about the Chinese New Year, and I would invite you to join me in my feasts in Sichuan on return. More recipes for delicious food can be found at world recipes.