At the risk of paraphrasing Survivor: It's the year of the tiger. This Sunday marks the start of the Lunar New Year, known as Chinese New Year to many. That means families everywhere will be feasting on a variety of foods that are considered fortuitous.
Danielle Chang recently spoke with WNYC's Amy Eddings about foods traditionally eaten during the New Year for a special holiday edition of Last Chance Foods. Chang and her husband, Todd Leong, are launching Lucky Rice, an Asian-food focused website, next week. The duo is also organizing an festival celebrating Asian cuisine for the last week of April.
Chang, who was born in Taiwan but grew up in the States, explained that dumplings are traditional fare for the Lunar New Year, since their shape resembles the golden ingots used as currency in ancient China. Dumpling making itself also becomes an event, as entire families gather to roll out the dough, season the filling and wrap dumplings. Even the children get involved, she said.
Homophones, words that sound the same but have different meanings, also play a big role in Lunar New Year celebrations. Chinese families traditionally eat a sticky cake called nian gao because it sounds like the phrase for "higher year." Fish is also served, since the Chinese word for fish, yu, is a homophone for plenty. Chang explained that the fish must be served whole to represent abundance in the coming year and added that some families just display the dish on New Year's Day. They don't dig in until the following day, initially keeping the fish intact. However, she says that, in her family, everything gets eaten immediately.
Auspicious numbers like five and two are taken into consideration, as well. One traditional dish features five different kinds of meat or five vegetables. Parents and relatives bestow the younger generations with red envelopes containing cash in amounts like $20 or $200.
"Generally, great care is given to serve an even number of dishes on the table, [in order] to bestow double happiness," Chang explained. "And the more the merrier. This is a holiday when the Chinese really go out of their way to show their prosperity and also to be extremely gracious to the friends and family that they've invited to partake in the celebrations. So there's always more food than anybody could possibly eat."
For those looking to celebrate Chinese New Year with some traditional fare, the recipe for pork-and-chive dumplings is below.
(from New York Magazine)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for frying dumplings
- 1 cup diced onion
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 Tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 cup chopped garlic (or Chinese) chives
- 1 1/2 lbs. ground pork
- 1 8-oz. package firm tofu
- 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 16-oz. package dumpling wrappers (look for the Twin Marquis brand, Hong-Kong style, available in many Asian food stores)
- 1 egg, beaten and reserved in a small bowl
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large pan, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, ginger, and garlic chives and cook for 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and let cool.
2. In a large bowl, combine pork, tofu, and hoisin sauce with the chive mixture. Test-fry a small portion of the pork mixture and adjust seasoning.
To make dumplings:
1. Holding dumpling wrapper flour side down, place a teaspoonful of pork mixture onto the middle of the wrapper.
2. Dip your index finger into the beaten egg and rub it over half of the outer edge of the dumpling.
3. Fold dumpling in half, crimping it in the middle and sealing along the egg-moistened edge, taking care not to leave any air pockets.
4. Repeat procedure and pan-fry the dumplings until crisp and brown on both sides.
Serve with a combination of soy sauce and rice-wine vinegar to dip.
Note: makes about four dozen dumplings; extras will keep in the freezer for two weeks or so.