January 28th is the start of the lunar Chinese New Year. All around the world, people kick off the celebration with parades, dinners, and parties. I don’t know about you, but I love celebrating a holiday through food, and taking any opportunity to spend time with loved ones.
Chinese New Year is important because each new year families from all over worship their ancestors as well as deities through sacrifices. Food, among other traditions are essential to Chinese New Year because of their symbolic qualities. Each dish made during Chinese New Year is important for receiving good things in the new year.
Five years ago, my family signed up to participate in a program at Emory University for international students to spend holidays with domestic families. This program allowed me to experience a new culture and make new friends. The three girls who stayed with us were all from China and in their sophomore year. We started discussing traditions for holidays and China, and they suggested we celebrate Chinese New Year.
Our dinners over the years have evolved to include more people and food, but one thing continually remains the same: Every year we make each dish by hand, spending hours in the kitchen preparing for our feast. We try to make sure to keep the dinner as authentic as possible.
Traditional Chinese dumplings are made with pork and cabbage and then wrapped with dough. Dumplings can be fried, boiled, or steamed. The best way to steam dumplings is by cooking them with a bamboo steamer. The best way to serve dumplings is with vinegar and soy sauce.
If you're going try and make these yourself, sit the dumplings on top of cabbage leaves in order to keep them from sticking to the steamer.
Dumplings have an important significance in the celebration of the new year. Eating dumplings is shown to bring prosperity in the new year. This prosperity comes from the shape the dumplings are folded into. Folded this way, they resemble the shape of an ingot, which was the main currency in China until the 20th century.
Peking Duck (北京烤鸭)
Peking duck is a common dish used in big events with family and loved ones. The duck is best known for its crispy skin because of the cooking process. After boiling the duck, it is then hung up and air is pumped in between the skin and fat. This process allows for the skin to become thin and crispy. Peking duck is used at weddings primarily because of its symbolization of fidelity.
Served with the duck are Mandarin Pancakes with Hoisin Sauce. These pancakes are simple to make because they only require three ingredients: water, sesame oil, and flour. After the pancakes have been cooked on a griddle, hoisin sauce, duck skin and meat, and some vegetables are put inside.
Stir Fry (翻炒)
Stir fry is a staple in any dinner, whether you're celebrating Chinese New Year or not. Stir fry can be a great source of vegetables, and when prepared with certain ingredients can bring prosperity.
For great wealth in the New Year, the Stir Fry needs to contain bamboo shoots. Bamboo shoots symbolize wealth, so prepare for some money coming your way.
Garlic chives are also important to Stir Fry if you want a long life. These Chinese garlic chives represent eternity and longevity.
Egg Drop Soup (鸡蛋汤)
Egg Drop Soup is a popular side dish to order at restaurants. Making egg drop soup for Chinese New Year has a special significance. Eggs are a symbol of fertility in Chinese culture. Eating eggs will increase one's fertility in the New Year.
Almond Cookies (杏仁饼)
Desserts are always important, they give the person who consumes them a sweet life in the new year. Even if you've stuffed yourself full of food, you'll always have room for dessert. Almond cookies (if you're not allergic to nuts) are a great way to end the feast.
These cookies represent wealth and prosperity. This is because the cookies look very similar to Chinese coins.
Fried Sesame Balls (煎堆)
A personal favorite of mine when I go out to get Dim Sum, the fried sesame balls are a nice sweet finish to the night. Fried sesame balls consist of sweet bean paste in the middle of a dough ball covered in sesame seeds. The sesame seeds provide a nice crunch once fried.
Their significance in Chinese New Year is similar to the other desserts eaten during this time. Their round shape and golden color when fried represent luck. Likewise, when fried they get larger in size which represents growth.
All these foods look great, but why do you need to do all of this again? Eating all of these types of food in order to gain new prospects in the New Year can be great, but nothing beats spending quality time with family and friends. One of the most important parts of Chinese New Year is to gather families together to cook, laugh, and honor the one's who are gone. I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate the new year than with my family and friends.