As part of my quest to cook through the myriad of food and drink days that pepper the year, last night I took on Chinese New Year.
Not so much a dedicated food day as a worldwide celebration, but excuse enough, if any was needed, to cook Chinese food.
I think I was far too ambitious.
It must be said that I rarely cook Chinese food and there isn’t really a particular reason why.
But for this I set my sights on prawn and pork wontons (I bought some wonton wrappers weeks ago and every time I open the freezer they’ve been pleading with me to be cooked!), lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork and egg-fried rice.
The thing is, Chinese food is pretty simple to cook but it always takes me so long to make – to ensure it’s all ready at once – and the kitchen is cluttered with seemingly every pot, saucepan and condiment bottle afterwards. I’ve put this down to the fact that I just don’t cook it enough to be familiar with it.
Anyway, how did it go?
The wontons turned out well, evenly cooked, crispy and fresh-tasting. They didn’t look pretty but I can work on that.
The lemon chicken was lemony and refreshing and so simple to make.
The sweet and sour pork was not as I know it from mainstream Chinese restaurants. Instead of a batter it had a crisp, thin coating (made from cornflour) that held inside a filling of succulent pork mince coupled with flavours of spring onion, rice wine, soy and ginger – delicious.
The egg fried rice was perfect. Steam the rice first and you’re on to a winner.
Will I delve deeper in Chinese cookery? Most definitely.
This year, Chinese New Year, or the Lunar New Year as many call it, marks the year of the pig.
Not being hugely familiar with the nuances of Chinese New Year, I did some research and here’s what I found out:
- The first day of Chinese New Year begins on the new moon that appears sometime between 21 January and 20 February, so it has no set date.
- It celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar.
- The festival is usually referred to as the Spring Festival in mainland China as it marks the beginning of Spring: planting and harvests, new beginings and fresh starts.
- It is traditionally observed from New Year’s Eve up until the Lantern Festival which is held on the 15th day of the Chinese year.
- Chinese New Year is a major holiday in Greater China.
- The Spring Festival was originally a ceremonial day to pray to gods for a good planting and harvest season. As an agrarian society, a good harvest meant everything.
- The festival is also a time for people to pray to their ancestors and honour deities.
- One of the myths surrounding Chinese New Year is that, according to legend, there was a monster called Nian who would appear every New Year’s Eve. Most people would hide in their homes. But one brave boy fought him off using firecrackers. The next day, people celebrated their survival by setting off even more firecrackers. And that is why fireworks have become an integral part of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
- On New Year’s Eve Chinese families gather for the annual reunion dinner. This is seen as the most important event in the celebrations and causes one of the largest migrations in the world as people travel home to be with their families for this dinner.
- Homes and people are decked out in red for the celebrations, from paper-cuts to lanterns and strings of chilli peppers to new red clothing.
- There is a day dedicated to cleaning before the festival. A day to sweep away bad luck and make room for the good.
- Traditionally elders would give money to youngsters in red paper envelopes – the money is supposed to help transfer fortune one generation to another. They can also be given between bosses and employees, co-workers, and friends.
- Chinese New Year ends with the Lantern Festival on the first full moon of the year.
Happy New Year or Kung hei fat choi!