Happy Lunar New Year, everyone! And 新年快乐 (xīn nián kuài lè) to anyone and everyone celebrating Chinese New Year!
Every year, there’s one holiday I always look forward to more than others in the wintertime. Ever since my grandparents moved to the United States to be closer to my family, Chinese New Year has become an incredibly vibrant and lively holiday in my household. The day is filled with preparing and cooking food, video calling with relatives in China, and watching the annual Chinese New Year TV show.
As with most holidays, the food is a very big deal. My mom often takes the entire day off from work to prepare the numerous dishes she makes. There are so many different ones that are all delicious in their own ways, and they’re all full with nostalgic memories for me. So, with Lunar New Year this year, I wanted to share some of those memories and recipes.
Of course, everyone celebrates Lunar New Year differently, especially if you’re not Chinese. But if you’re looking to change up your regular routine or are looking for somewhere to start for Chinese New Year recipes, here are a few!
1. Homemade dumplings (饺子 jiǎo zi)
(Image courtesy of https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/90915930)
These are a staple of traditional Chinese New Year dinners. Dumplings, nowadays, are considered a symbol of wealth and good fortune when eaten at the start of a new year as their shape is said to resemble the old coins used in ancient China.
The process of making dumplings isn’t too difficult. Dumpling dough is made of water and flour, mixed and kneaded for about five minutes before resting. Typically, dumpling filling is made out of ground pork or chicken. Then, some complementary vegetables are added—things like chives and lettuce. Add a litany of spices, and then it’s time to make the dumplings.
Of course, reading my vague guide on how to make dumplings really isn’t going to help—especially when I’m discussing a general recipe for all dumplings with no specifics. I myself am no dumpling expert either. Even though I’ve eaten them innumerable times before, I’ve really only made them once the entire time through; not to mention, that one time was with my mother’s help. Thankfully, as you’d expect, there are a variety of recipes online to help walk you through the dumpling-making process by experts much more experienced than myself.
If you haven’t made homemade dumplings before, here’s an extremely delicious and easy recipe for chicken dumplings to try out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kg6dm8535TI
2. Eight Treasure Rice (八宝饭 bā bǎo fàn)
(Image courtesy of https://cookidoo.thermomix.com/recipes/recipe/en-US/r229866)
This is a rather well-known and popular dessert for Chinese New Year dinners. It’s called “eight treasure rice” because the dish is made up of sticky rice and eight (or so) nuts, dried fruits, and bean pastes that are layered in with the rice. The sweetness of the rice and the rice is balanced out by the slight saltiness and sourness of the various dried objects, and it’s also a very filling dessert. It’s definitely something you’ll want to save room for.
The roundness of the sticky rice is meant to be a symbol of fullness and abundance in the coming year, and the dish itself is also supposed to bring fortune, given that it is called “eight treasures rice”.
Here’s a rather simple recipe with ingredients that are pretty commonplace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sr-Oc6YDFcA
Or, here’s a recipe that more closely resembles the sticky rice I had growing up, with lots more homemade elements: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBl5TXHtt1s.
3. Quan Jia Fu (全家福 quán jiā fú)
Image courtesy of kknews.cc (https://kknews.cc/food/arxpva6.html)
Now this dish is something that, so far as I know, seems to be exclusive to my Chinese New Year. Perhaps it’s a regional cuisine, or something entirely unique to my parents’ hometown. What I do know, however, is that it is delicious.
This dish is specific to Chinese New Year due to its name: Quan Jia Fu. In Chinese, this phrase translates to “fortune for the whole family”. So, of course, why wouldn’t it be a meal for the new year?
Of course, as with most Chinese dishes, there is no one particular way to make it. However, one ingredient that all recipes agree on? Quail eggs. I’m not sure why quail eggs are so essential, but I suspect it has to do with something similar to the meaning behind sticky rice—representing fullness and abundance.
Generally, though, it’s a chicken soup with many different ingredients inside. When my parents make it, they add carrots (specially cut into little stars), Chinese mushrooms, chicken thigh, the ever-essential quail eggs, long stalks of green onions, and something called a meat-egg roll.
Image courtesy of xiachufang (https://www.xiachufang.com/recipe/100630609/)
They’re made by rolling up ground meat in thin layers of egg, then steaming the whole roll. It goes really well with the lighter, cleaner taste of the soup and other ingredients.
The meat-egg roll is one of the reasons I always look forward to having Quan Jia Fu every year. There’s also something about being able to eat a whole hard-boiled egg in one bite that brings me immense pleasure.
All in all, it’s an amazing dish and something that I will certainly be trying to make for my own Lunar New Year when the time comes. I would provide a recipe but, unfortunately? Since it’s such an obscure dish, there seems to be no recipes in English for it. But, there’s always some fun in experimenting and trying to find your own version!
4. Fish (鱼 yú)
Not too unfamiliar, right? You might think that the description is a little generic, but there is no real criteria except for there to be a fish served at the dinner.
So the next question would be, why the vague criteria? Well, the idea of serving fish during Chinese New Year dinner comes from a saying in Chinese, 年年有余 (nián nián yǒu yú). The saying—in rough translation—means, “each year has growing abundance”. The character 余, meaning abundance, is pronounced exactly like the character 鱼, which means fish (are you starting to see a pattern here with these traditional foods?). Thus, it’s a premonition of fortune and abundance if you eat fish before the start of the new year.
Again, I can only speak from my own experience here, but it seems that steamed fish is the most common way to serve fish during Chinese New Year. Typically, my mom uses a variety of cod and scores the fish rather deeply, inserting ginger into the scores to infuse flavor as the fish steams. Then, as a finisher, she heats up some seafood sauce (I really couldn’t tell you what’s in it, all I know is that it’s one of those bottles that I’ve seen around the kitchen all my life) and pours it over the fish and some long green onion stalks that have cut up into bite-size pieces. The fish comes out tender and flaky, retaining all its moisture; not to mention, the sauce and green onions add on more flavor. It’s always a classic at the Chinese New Year dinner.
But, like I said in the beginning, it doesn’t have to be served that way. As long as it’s a fish? Criteria fulfilled.