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Miss J

Chinese New Year

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It looks like a gathering at my flat is going to coincide with the first day of the Chinese New Year, and I'd like to observe the event as far as my cooking/sourcing skills will allow.

Does anyone have any suggestions for food, ingredients, or serving? I'm open to both traditional and "nouveau" ideas. So far I'm leaning towards doing a more "Euro twist" approach, but that's probably more about not knowing where to start rather than trying to avoid real Chinese dishes. I've been toying with the idea of kicking things off with lychee martinis, lotus root crisps and Sichuan peanuts, but that's as far as my thinking has gone.

Does anyone know if peach blossoms smell/taste of anything? Or for that matter, where I'll be able to find them in London in February? :wink:


Edited by Miss J (log)

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Traditionally, cherry blossom stalks tend to be utilized for decorative purposes (with connotations of good fortune and luck, etc.) The Japanese do have cherry blossom sake, although that item is very seasonal and I have never sampled it. Cherry blossoms are somewhat fragrant. However, I am unsure they have wide acceptance as a cooking ingredient.

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Who better to answer that question than the FoodTV Network?

(I hope someone who knows more chips in. I just remember various cakey things. I'm sure you could preorder these from an appropriate Chinese bakery. Save you time.)


Edited by Kikujiro (log)

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Me too - I'm starting to move on to thinking about doing something more traditionally Chinese (and most likely Sichuan, thanks to the reliable Ms Dunlop) but I still don't have much idea about what symbolic foods I can take advantage of. So far I've found out that kumquats are a good bet, as well as the little cakes you've mentioned. And I've also found that technically I shouldn't cut up anything on the day, but I suspect I'll have to turn a blind eye to that one...

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Steam a big fish. But don't eat all of it. Means that you will have something good leftover every year.

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It starts on Feb 1st.

The fish idea is a good one. It would make for an attractive presentation, too...

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Miss J -- You could purchase some special Chinese cakes (not really cakes) in London's Chinatown. The two most common types are (1) white turnip (rough translation into English sounds, "law bak go", which is available at a number of London dim sum places year-round), and (2) a sweet, brown-looking version ("leen go"). These are available as largish circular "cakes", and have to be sliced. For the latter version, dip it into a beaten egg mixture before it is fried. It tastes largely of sugar, and is not particularly interesting (except arguably for its elasticky texture).

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Steam boat always fun - good way to use that fondue set/random camp stove you never thought you'd need.

The alternative would just be to get everyone together for a mutha jiaozi (dumpling-making) session in the afternoon. The advantage is there's plenty of time to chat and no need to do any cooking. Is not that hard, either, once you have the knack (although round-eye dumplings do tend to look like something the cat dragged in at first.

It's very traditional for everyone to sit round making these sort of dumplings at new year (at least in the north - the southerners are probably busy catching cats, dogs, snakes or whatever they consider apposite). The shape of the dumpling is meant to resemble a gold ingot - symbolising prosperity. The more you eat the more prosperity you will have in the new year.

cheerio

J

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Long-life noodles (sang mein), yu-sheng and jai are standards at our house for lunar new year.

regards,

trillium

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Long-life noodles (sang mein), yu-sheng and jai are standards at our house for lunar new year. 

regards,

trillium

What are yu-sheng and jai?

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The Taiwanese tradition for a Chinese New Year feast must include:

Dumplings (for wealth)

Celery (for work)

Oranges or Kimquat (also for wealth)

Noodles (Sang Mein for longevity)

A big fish steamed in ginger, rice wine and scallions. You can eat one side, but you can't flip it over. This way you will always have food in your house.

Sweet Rice Cakes (nien gao)

Sesame or peanut crunch candy.

and a house decorated with plum blossoms for good luck.

Have fun!

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Thank you Bond Girl, that's very interesting!

Jon, what's steam boat?

Does anyone know if the Chinatown in London celebrates Chinese NY with special menus and parades as well as those firecracker things everywhere?

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Akiko, I've certainly seen dragon processions in the past, but I don't know who organises them or how to check.

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There's usually something going on. The London Chinatown website is here.

There isn't anything about this year's festivities yet, but they usually start listing events around a week before everything kicks off.

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Long-life noodles (sang mein), yu-sheng and jai are standards at our house for lunar new year.  

regards,

trillium

What are yu-sheng and jai?

I believe trillium's reference to jai is to a primarily-or-all-vegetarian dish. Typically, over the New Year, it contains, among other things "fat choy" (not formal translation) -- a black vermicelli-thin seaweed or vegetable material (?) -- and might contain certain limited non-vegetarian items (e.g., dried oysters, which are pronounced "ho see", sounding like "good things"). The vegetable dish will usually have Chinese black mushrooms, and have a brown-colored sauce. "Jai" generically can refer to Buddhist vegetarian cuisine when used in certain contexts. However, that is not the New Year's reference.

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A Chinese-Canadian friend in Toronto emailed me this last night:

"Decorations for any chinese new year, the colours are rich with red and

gold. Any golden colour fruit, such as tangerines, kumquats, and red

apples are good. For chinese tradition, there is always a very red and

fancy candy box with a lid (usually round with partitions inside). Inside

would contain candied lotus nuts, candied coconut, candied ginger, red and

black melon seeds, etc. All of these candied items can be found in

chinatown as new year approaches. Also inside would be two red money

envelopes contain a little money (5 quid in each for example) for good luck

(not to give away but just part of the candy box) It symbolises that with

the candy you are offering your guests, you are spreading good luck and good

fortune, wishing them a new year that is sweet, happy & prosperous."

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Thank you Bond Girl, that's very interesting! 

Jon, what's steam boat?

Does anyone know if the Chinatown in London celebrates Chinese NY with special menus and parades as well as those firecracker things everywhere?

Otherwise known as steamboat - where you have a heater and a pot of boiling water/stock in the middle of the table and everyone dips in raw ingredients to cook at a minute

then devour with dipping sauce - I prefer peanut with a raw egg yolk beaten in

J

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Long-life noodles (sang mein), yu-sheng and jai are standards at our house for lunar new year.  

regards,

trillium

What are yu-sheng and jai?

I believe trillium's reference to jai is to a primarily-or-all-vegetarian dish. Typically, over the New Year, it contains, among other things "fat choy" (not formal translation) -- a black vermicelli-thin seaweed or vegetable material (?) -- and might contain certain limited non-vegetarian items (e.g., dried oysters, which are pronounced "ho see", sounding like "good things"). The vegetable dish will usually have Chinese black mushrooms, and have a brown-colored sauce. "Jai" generically can refer to Buddhist vegetarian cuisine when used in certain contexts. However, that is not the New Year's reference.

Yep, I was being lazy and just using the generic term for Buddhist vegetarian (really is vegan) food, but I meant a particular dish that appears around the lunar new year-- bak bo jai which is eight treasures vegetable dish (um, something might be getting lost in the translation). The things you put in it are pretty optional I think, but it should add up to eight, which sounds lucky. Ours usually includes cloud ear, shitake, ginko nuts and fat choy (again because saying it sounds lucky). Some Cantonese versions include dried seafood like oysters, but others think it should be a dish that doesn't have any animal products in it. Eating dead animals or their products on the new year isn't auspicious for some, but others like how oysters sound when you say it and they figure fish doesn't count as meat.

Yu sheng is something traditional amongst Singaporean Chinese and probably Malaysian too. It's a tossed raw fish salad, fish (yu) sounds like excess, which is something you want and sheng is life. Everybody is supposed to toss it at the same time with their chopsticks shouting (or toasting, I guess) "loa hei", which means to mix it up but also sounds like prosper more. From an outsider's viewpoint, a lot of these dishes seem to me to be tasty and have puns which are for prosperity, luck, abundance, etc. and that are why they're eaten at new year. We skipped yu sheng while we lived in Chicago because it was harder to find good sushi grade fish.

It's kinda like xmas and thanksgiving rolled into one and as a kid is pretty cool because you get to eat all these treats you don't usually get (like fried foods and soft drinks) and you get bao, money the married people hand out in little red envelopes.

regards,

trillium

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Lots of round items such as the deep-fried sesame mochi balls filled with red bean paste. I seem to think this had something to do with wealth. Cantonese friends always had fatty roast pork or a whole suckling pig.

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Thanks everyone for all the suggestions. I've taken them, weighed them up with my sanity and ability to turn things out of my kitchen at a decent clip, and have come up with the following meny. Any final thoughts/suggestions/warnings you may have are appreciated...

Drinks & nibbles: lychee martinis (made a few this weekend, and found them pleasant but lethal - they're best when on-the-edge-of-freezing), strange-flavour peanuts (already made, and probably the best batch I've managed so far), mochi with sesame stuffing (I'll be sure to warn people about the choking issues...)

Cold dishes: (all to be prepped earlier in the day, except for the beef which can be done tomorrow)

Long beans with fresh ginger sauce

Red peppers with sweet & sour vinegar

Beef with tangerine peel and chilies

Hot dishes:

Steamed whole fish, Sichuan style

Red-braised belly pork (to be done Friday and reheated on the day)

Whatever-greens-I-happen-to-find-on-the-day stir-fried with garlic

Long egg noodles with sea flavours

Jasmine tea

Candied kumquats, sesame candies, candied soursop

This should leave me with only two last-minute stir-fry dishes, although the final prep for the fish and steaming will take around 10 minutes as well.

Well? I've done all of these dishes before and have done a similar-ish large menu on one occasion, so know that the steaming/braising/cold dishes combo will make it manageable. Any last words of advice before I go in? :smile:

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You forgot to invite me, but it's okay to just send a taxi round with my food and drink. The only problem is transporting the drinks.

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