February 19th marks the beginning of the new year in the lunar calendar. According to the Chinese zodiac, it will be the year of the goat. In Chinese culture, the new year is the single most important holiday–a superstitious holiday centered around food. In order to ensure that one’s lucky streak will continue into the next year or to change your unlucky fate, one must seal their fate by eating the correct food. Each family has their own twist on traditional recipes for the quintessential foods, similar to American Thanksgiving. Below, I share with you some of my family’s menu with some tips for preparation. Happy Year of the Goat!
Chinese New Year Menu
Steamed Whole Fish: Consumed because it ensures abundance, stemming from the phrase “Nian Nian You Yu (年年有余)”; the character “余” sounds like the word for fish in Chinese. Have your fish monger de-scale and remove the insides for you, but keep everything else (head and tail). There are many ways to prepare steamed whole fish, but my favorite is topped with ginger and scallions, soy sauce and hot oil.
Noodles: The symbolism behind eating noodles is that they represent long life. Therefore, make sure you buy long noodles. My favorite are egg noodles because I like the chewy texture. You can usually find them in the refrigerated aisle; blanch them ahead of time and when you are ready, throw them in a hot wok with soy sauce, or oyster sauce.
Dumplings: Shaped in a crescent, similar to ancient Chinese currency, dumplings are eaten during the New Year to bring wealth and fortune. Though you can stuff them with pretty much any ingredient, my favorite are my mother’s: Napa cabbage and pork, seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil. It is said that the more pleats on a dumpling, the more skilled the maker. When you prepare them for a supper party, its best to cook them a little bit ahead of time and then keep them warm in the oven.
Spring Rolls: Rolled into a log and fried into a golden crisp, spring rolls resemble gold bars. They are eaten during the new year to ensure wealth. My favorite filling is ground pork, carrots and rice noodles, a recipe that is from my Dad’s Vietnamese heritage.
Fat Choy: A vegetable that resembles hair when dried, earning its name “hair vegetable” in Chinese, which also sounds like “to strike it rich.” Therefore, this is part of the menu to provide further assurance of gaining wealth in the New Year; if you don’t have it yet, you will.
Dried Oysters: The words for dried oyster in Chinese is similar to prosperity. Growing up, dried oysters were stewed together with the Fat Choy; talk about double whammy. However, truth be told, this is my least favorite Chinese New Year menu item; I only eat it during the New Year and even then, I can only bare to eat one.
Sweet Rice Balls: Tang Yuan. Tang Yuan are white rice balls filled with black sesame paste, so the look like the moon, making it a perfect dessert for the Moon Festival. From there, it was carried over into the Chinese New Year menu. Last year, my sister made these by hand, but if you had to pick one dish to go semi-homemade or have purchased at a store, these would be it. They are difficult to make: high work to fun ratio!