FOOD is fashion . FASHION is food . a VICTIM of fashionable food*

Friday, February 4, 2011

Chinese New Year 2011*

"History weaves an intriguing tale: 
Buddha issued an invitation to all the animals to a grand feast, but only 12 showed up to the festivities. 
Their order of appearance would thus determine their position in the Chinese Zodiac.
This is a topic of countless legends deeply embedded in Chinese mythology.
Beginning on 3 February 2011, the Year of the Rabbit is the fourth animal in the Chinese Zodiac. 
Astrologists predict the Rabbit Year will favour family, personal development and diplomacy.
There will be a feeling that all is not lost and hope is still very much alive!"

Chinese New Year marks the beginning of the Spring Festival and is one of the biggest events in the Lunar Calendar. A time of celebration and thanksgiving, all family members gather together to eat and rejoice in a family reunion. Given the importance of food in Chinese culture (and my life in general), it plays a fundamental role in Chinese New Year celebrations. Tradition dictates a multitude of symbolic foods must be consumed based on its appearance or the way the Chinese word is pronounced. Red is the predominant colour used, as it alludes to fire and is believed to drive away bad luck. Remember, events that occur on New Year's Day may impact on your life for the rest of the year- so be careful in your actions! 

Chinese New Year Gift Baskets
(Red Candy Boxes filled with Sweet Delicacies and Dried Fruits; Packets of Chestnuts; Red Envelopes; and Lucky Chinese New Year Decorations.)

Nián gāo (年糕)
Glutinous Rice New Year Cake 
(This sweet, steamed, and extremely sticky cake has symbolic significance on many levels. Nián gāo is a homonym for "a more prosperous year" (年高 - Year High), so it is considered good luck to eat it for increasing prosperity. It's sweetness symbolises a rich and sweet life, while the layers reflect a rising abundance for the coming year. Finally, the round shape signifies family reunion.)

During the first few days, the cake may be eaten at room temperature in thick slices while it is still soft, stretchy and extremely sticky. Thereafter, it is usually served pan fried so that it is slightly crispy on the outside yet remains super sticky on the inside.

Chinese Tea (茶) and Boiled Rice (米饭) 
(Tea and Rice are deemed to be two of the seven necessities of life for Chinese people. Tea is consumed for good health, while the bowl of rice symbolises fertility, luck and wealth for a cohesive family.)

Luó Hàn Zhāi (羅漢齋) 
(An elaborate vegetarian dish served on the first day of the New Year that is meant to convey family harmony and close family ties. The dish contains a variety of ingredients, with eight different wishes for the new year. To ensure even more luck for the family, the number eight is very lucky and literally means wealth.)
  1. Black Moss Seaweed & Dried Oysters (髮菜蠔豉) - Exceeding wealth in a good market (發財好市) for better business opportunities
  2. Chinese Cabbage (笑菜) - Lots of laughter
  3. Shiitake Mushrooms (冬菇) - I asked mom what this symbolises, and she said it ensures you will not get fired from your job (deng dong gu)! Although I am told the correct meaning is to seize good opportunities
  4. Glass Noodles(粉絲) - Unbroken noodles reflect a long life
  5. Jujube (枣) - Wealth, prosperity and fertility
  6. Muer Mushroom (木耳) - Longevity
  7. Dried Tofu (豆腐干) - Fulfillment of wealth and happiness
  8. Bean curd sticks (腐竹) - Blessing the house 

Despite only six people eating, dad had cooked enough Luó Hàn Zhāi to fill six large bowls. Apparently, there must be more than enough food for everyone, with plenty of leftovers, so that all the good fortune will never finish!

Now I have a question for you. How did such a simple white doughy ball on the left, transform into the deliciously enticing golden brown sesame ball on the right?

The journey begins with many hours of preparation beforehand. First, Grandma makes red bean paste from scratch- by mashing cooked red beans in the wok, adding melted brown sugar, then rolling the mixture into small balls. Afterwards, the ball of red bean paste in placed in the centre of the glutinous rice dough, sealed and rolled in sesame seeds.

In the second stage, the heat turns up as the glutinous sesame balls are deep fried in oil. At this point, mom has to squash each ball with the sieve so that air may enter the dough and they become larger.

Once golden brown, the balls float to the surface and carefully sieved from the wok. They should be individually lined up neatly on silver platters, ready to be distributed to family and friends!

Zha Jin Deui 
Deep Fried Sesame Balls Filled with Red Bean Paste
(Inside the crispy pastry is a large hollow void caused by the expansion of the dough. Once the air escapes the hollow- usually after an hour or so, the Jin Deui deflates and becomes a flat round circle. Although it may not look as nice as the original by this stage, it still tastes delicious!)

While it may appear a tad ridiculous, it is customary to wear read and gold to scare away evil spirits and bad fortune. In addition, people typically wear new clothes to symbolize a new beginning in the new year. But a word of caution, one could be easily mistaken for a red envelope! 

Last, but not least... Red Envelopes (which are arguably the best part of Chinese New Year)!! Each red envelope contains money that are given by married couples and elders to the young as a token of luck. 

Now is the time to greet everyone with:
Gung Hei Faat Choi (恭喜发财) or "Congratulations and be Prosperous".
Wishing everyone the Happiest Chinese New Year filled with Good Health and Fortune!
Let us all be Lovers not Fighters, Forgive and Forget ~
And we shall have the Best year yet!!!*

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