Sadly, I will not be in Boston for Chinese New Year’s because on this day, some families consider this the Superbowl of traditional Chinese food lunches. Let me help you avoid the bunch of cliché online drivel regarding Chinese restaurant specialties and little Chinese themed recipes. A true Chinese New Year’s involves some of the following food items:
It’s not the thick skinned, sticky itty bitty suckers with the red bean paste in the middle that you may get from the dim sum restaurants. Those are imposter metropolitan run-of-the-mill inferior sesame balls, see below…
The ones that we have for New Year’s are the big hollow thin donut balls seen above being fried by my grandma below. Fried puffy sweet crispy balls of goodness. Traditional local heirloom recipe boys and gals – so sorry, no sharing.
2). Shrimp Chips
It’s hard to get the heirloom recipe stuff, but its easy to get a nice package of shrimp chips from a Chinese grocer and fry some of those bad boys up. Be careful, don’t throw too many into a hot fryer, they expand to 4 times their chip size. Crab chips are also mucho tasty. This pic is from somewhere else random, but you get the idea. Personally I don’t buy the ones with color because I find the simple white ones in the longer boxes taste better and end up bigger.
3). The Vegetarian Mixing Bowl aka Luo Han Zhai
Loosely translated, it is simple named “Zhai” or sometimes known as Luo Han Zhai or something stupid like “Buddha’s Delight.” New Year’s day is also the day you are not supposed to be eating meat – one rule that I simply have not been able to follow consistently.
What normally ends up in this veggie pot wonder is a ridiculous assortment of stuff, all eventually cooked in one pot and melded into a crazy assortment of flavors. The classical Luo Han Zhai is supposed to have 18 items named after the 18 monks they represent. Well mi familia normally rocks it with the following minus one or two things from the list:
1. Yuba (tofu skin)
2. Fat Choy (a super thin weave of black noodles, actually a veggie of some sort)
3. Fried tofu
4. Snap peas
7. Napa cabbage
8. Daylily buds (aka golden needles)
9. Wood Ear (aka black fungi)
10. Water chestnuts
11. Dried oysters
13. Fried Wheat Gluten
15. Bok Choy
16. Lotus Root
17. Peanuts (untoasted)
18. Bamboo shoots
Pretty much the most ridiculous thing you can ever eat. It tastes pretty awesome.
4. Mochi Cake – aka Nian Gao
It’s a glutinous rice cake that gets steamed. It is sweet, gooey and can be eaten cold as well. I honestly do not touch the stuff. Some people love it like my moms, but it is one of the few things that I do not shovel in my mouth – a rarity on this blog.
5. Pan Fried Yuba Rolls
We normally eat these guys with shitakes, water chestnuts, vermicelli, bamboo shoots, golden needles and smothered with a savory sauce. Pretty awesome. This is an example of how it might look (except those have shrimp in them).
Rules and Superstitions
Think about this for a second, it’s a holiday devoted to stuffing your face with food and stuffing your pockets with money. It’s a total win-win situation. Now that we’ve identified some of the food, here are some basic rules to follow:
1. Do not wash your hair, it means you’re washing away your luck.
2. No cursing
3. Do not eat meat.
4. When visiting family bring a shiny box of something (cookies, cakes, nuts, etc) and don’t forget to put oranges or tangerines in the bag. Preferably 3 I think.
5. Red envelopes are passed to those who are younger by generation and by marital status. So if I happen to have a 21 year old uncle/aunt that just got married, he’s going to be throwing some cash my way. Yes, it does pay somewhat to be single during New Year’s or you can look at this from the perspective that this is another sacred thing that marriage has ruined.
6. Don’t keep your hand out when expecting a red envelope unless you are expecting a backhand (just kidding, not really).
7. Pour and serve tea to parents and grandparents and always pass tea cups with two hands.