This year’s Chinese New Year will take place on Sunday, January 22nd. The opportunity to rediscover the gastronomy of the Middle Kingdom, whether you choose to order takeaway or get your hands dirty.
Also called the “Spring Festival”, the New Year is the main holiday of the year in China. This traditional festival encompasses many customs related to food, decorations, greetings and gifts. The year 2023 will be the year of the water bunny, which will start on Sunday 22 January 2023 and end on Friday 9 February 2024. Last year was the 1um February 2022, the beginning of the year of the water tiger.
During Chinese New Year, certain dishes are eaten according to their symbolic meaning. They are said to bring good luck, these “lucky” preparations are eaten for 16 days and especially on New Year’s Eve.
The New Year’s meal is called the “Spring Feast” or “Feast of the Gods of Fortune.” It begins in the evening and ends at dawn.
Since it is the meal that ushers in a new period, it symbolizes all meals to come. For this it must be particularly effective, user-friendly and rich. So there’s no question of skimping on your gluttony: the dishes and recipes combine to deliver a giant sweet and savory feast. Starters include bite-sized bites, topped spring rolls with chicken, mushrooms and rice vermicelli, beef and curry or beignets wrapped in prawns. In the cold version there is no shortage of spring rolls with prawns.
Meat or fish first
Small peculiarity in China: the dish is served before the soup. The menu is then inaugurated with meat (beef or pork), fish or seafood. Seafood is a must during the New Year’s meal. In fact, what comes from the sea or water is considered a sign of abundance and luck (the word “fish” and the word “surplus” are pronounced the same in Chinese).
These dishes are accompanied by noodles (due to their length they indicate longevity), rice, dates, beans or bamboo (a symbol of youth, because they are always green). As for the meat, it is invited to the table through the famous lacquered duck accompanied by its pancakes. Not forgetting the carousel of flavors of chicken with black mushrooms and cashews, General Tsao’s chicken, or sweet and sour or caramel sautéed pork to name but a few.
Vegetables are also ubiquitous. The long-leaf varieties, on the other hand, occupy a special place during New Year’s lunch, in fact they represent family unity and symbolically wish their parents long life.
Then the soup…
After the dishes, it’s time for soup, sweet or savoury. Rarely mixed, it comes in the form of broths with meatballs or fish, vermicelli or noodles, seaweed, bamboo shoots, soybeans, mushrooms or fruit. Among the most traditional are the classic Chinese dumpling soup or the black mushroom and tofu soup.
Leftovers are also welcome – they indicate future prosperity. In some families they sometimes don’t even finish the fish (which symbolizes wealth) on purpose to accentuate the idea of profusion. In general, foods often have a particular symbolism, which is used throughout the New Year’s meal.
At the end of the meal sweets and cakes are also served which are supposed to bring good luck. They are traditionally six or eight in number. Each represents a joy to come. Among these, we point out lotus roots (which symbolize wealth), melon seeds (which indicate reunion), ginger, candied fruit…
The end of the meal is also the time for the famous “lucky cakes”, invented by the Americans but revived in Chinese restaurants. These dry and light sweets contain a little word, a lucky proverb or a positive adage.
Finally, the fruit is often arranged in beautiful baskets, both for decoration and for tasting. The clementine is the protagonist of the new year, because in Chinese it has the same name as “happy event”. Peaches, a symbol of longevity, are also favored.
SOME FUNDAMENTAL RECIPES OF THE CHINESE NEW YEAR
The “Hot Pot” or Chinese fondue is the party dish par excellence. It is a broth served in a large pot placed in the center of the table in which the guests cook themselves a multitude of ingredients (vegetables, prawns and fish balls, scallops, white squid, surimi sticks…). To prepare it, simply chop all the seafood and fish and prepare the broth with soybean paste, mushrooms and bok choy and/or other vegetables. Then, each diner immerses his piece for a few moments in the very hot broth.
Sweet goji berry soup
To prepare it, take 200 g of Goji berries (considered a “superfood” because they are very rich in antioxidants), 85 g of dried longan without pits (a fruit similar to lychee), 450 g of white sugar and 180 g of red dates. Rinse the dates and berries, then immerse them with the longan in a pot of water which you bring to the boil. Then add sugar and simmer for twenty minutes.
In Chinese, the word “fish” sounds like “abundance”, which is why this dish is enjoyed on New Year’s Eve and can be cooked blanched, steamed or braised. The most famous Chinese seafood preparations include hot steamed fish, West Lake fish with cabbage and chili marinade, steamed fish in vinegar sauce, and fish boiled with “spices”.
Their history dates back over 1800 years in China, making them a very popular dish. In the north of the country it is the traditional New Year’s dish. In general, dumplings consist of a filling and thinly sliced vegetables wrapped in a layer of thin, springy dough. Toppings range from minced pork to cubed shrimp and fish, ground chicken, beef and vegetables. They can be boiled, steamed, fried or baked. On New Year’s Eve, however, it is traditional to eat cabbage and radish dumplings in hopes of keeping your skin clear and a light-hearted mood.
Spring rolls get their name from the fact that they are usually eaten during the Chinese New Year, also known as the “Spring Festival”. Rolled up and cylindrical in shape, spring rolls are filled with vegetables, meat or sweet ingredients. The fillings are wrapped in a thin flaky pastry shell before being deep-fried until they turn a golden yellow colour. This dish is particularly popular in eastern China: Shanghai, Fujian, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong…