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Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen’s Guide to Celebrating the Lunar New Year - January 2012 Newsletter

With the arrival of the lunar new year, Chinese all over the world celebrates another new year and the arrival of spring.  It is a time of family reunion and renewal of life as another new and hopeful year is welcomed in joyful celebrations and festivities. 

At Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen, we too, join in the fun in welcoming the lunar year of the water dragon.  Full of wonderful opportunities, the year of the water dragon promises to be an exciting one full of changes.

Because a few of our customers have asked about the food and customs during Chinese New Year, and because we value all of our customers’ feedback, this month’s newsletter is a guide to provide an inside view of celebrating the Chinese new year. 

New Year Goodies
Chinese New Year is a big holiday in China and in several other Asian countries where a sizable Chinese population exists.  Lasting fifteen days, it is the largest holiday in China.  Much akin to the Christmas season in the Western world, Chinese New Year is the time of year looked forward to by all the children and adults alike as a time of celebration and indulgence in good food and fun.

Food is a big part of Chinese culture, and during the lunar new year, it is a time of feasting for old and young alike.  It is the time tasty treats and delicious dishes are served, many of which serve as auspicious symbols to usher in a prosperous new year.

Symbolism is important during the time of Chinese New Year, as it is believed that starting a new year on a lucky footing would bode well for the rest of the year.  Hence, it is important that lucky food items—food that has lucky sounding names, and auspicious associations are served.

Mandarin Oranges and Tangerines
Among these, mandarin oranges and tangerines are especially popular.  In Hong Kong, Singapore, as well as in China, mandarin oranges and tangerines are exchanged when families members visit one another’s household as a way of wishing someone good fortune.

The reason for this is because, mandarin orange’s Cantonese name: “gum” has the same sound as the Cantonese word “gum” for gold.  While, tangerines, “gut” has a similar sound to the word “good fortune”.

It is a common sight to see families carrying mandarin oranges and tangerines home by the cartons.  Potted tangerine bushes are also popular as a form of decoration during Chinese New Year, so it is not uncommon to see night markets, where many Chinese families visit to stock up on new year goodies, sell potted tangerine plants.

Chinese Sweets and Candies
It is perhaps only during Chinese New Year when children are allowed to indulge in eating sweets and candies.  During Chinese New Year, Chinese children stuff themselves on delicious sugared lotus seeds, sugared lotus roots, candied winter melons, candied coconut shreds, and a wide variety of candies—from chocolates to gummies to fruit flavored hard candies. 

During Chinese New Year, it is a custom for families to visit one another and exchange well wishes, as well as for the older family members of a household to give out this red envelopes to the young in a family.  The red envelopes usually contain money and are known as “li si” which has the same sound as the word “auspicious” or “good fortune”. 

Sweet delicacies and candies are always made available in all homes during this time of year as a way to welcome guests, as it is believed that candies symbolize a sweet beginning to the new year.

Often sweets and candies are served in a compartmentalized tray, much like the bento box, with a variety of sweets and treats.  Commonly found in the candy box are melon seeds “kua zi”, loved for their sound which resembles the word for son, and is seen as auspicious for those longing for male offspring in the family. 

New Year Pastries
A common pastry found during the Chinese New Year is what is known in Chinese as “Nian Kow”.  It is sticky glutinous rice cake that is often dark brown in color and made from glutinous rice pastes, brown sugar, and oil.  It is popular during Chinese New Year because its name has a similar sound to the words which can be translated literally as “higher every year”.  Seen as auspicious wish that things get better every year, it is often eaten during the new year.

Nian Kows are available in most Asian supermarkets, but if you would like to try your hand at making your very own Nian Kow, recipes can easily be found online.  Nian Kows are not complicated pastries, but it may take some practice for one to perfect the texture of the Nian Kow.
Nian Kows are commonly round in shape, and are usually sliced and heated before they are served.  A commonly way to heat the nian kow slices is by pan-frying them.  Through this method of preparation, nian kow slices have an added layer of crisp and flavor, which complements the sweetness of the pastry well.

As a child, my mother used to slice Nian Kows and dip the slices in egg before frying them.  The nian kow wrapped in a thin layer of lightly pan-fried egg batter was what I looked forward to every year during the time of Chinese New year.

Dinner Main Dishes
During the Chinese New Year season, families often get together for what is known in Chinese culture as the reunion dinner.  It is commonly held on the day before the first day of the Chinese New Year, what is known in Chinese culture, as the “night of the 30th”, the last day of the old year, before transiting into the new lunar year.

On this night, family members from all over the country, even all over the world, get together and enjoy time together as a family.  Parents get to see their children, and grandparents are re-united with their grandchildren during the reunion dinner where everyone gets together to celebrate the end of a year and in preparation for the arrival of a new one.

Dishes served during the reunion dinner include meat dishes such as:  chicken, fish, and suckling pork.  In the past, when most families could not afford meat in their every day meals due to poverty, serving meat during Chinese New Year is an extravagance that everyone looked forward to once a year.

Today, people continue to serve meat to symbolize abundance.  Fish, in Chinese, has the same sound as the word which means abundance.  As a result, it is common to find steamed fish at the reunion dinner.

Another common dish is “Fat Choy”, a kind of dried black moss that is popular during the new year.  The sound of “fat choy” resembles the word which means “wealth”.  Fat Choy is commonly paired with Chinese mushrooms and mixed vegetables.

For dessert, families like to serve tiny glutinous rice balls in syrup.  The name of this dessert dish, “tang yuan” has the auspicious mean of “sweetness” and “completeness” and is associated with the completeness of a reunion.  Tang Yuans are commonly filled with sweet red bean paste or sweet black sesame paste and are served with a sweet syrupy soup made from cane sugar, sweet potatoes and ginger.

After the reunion dinner, the adults like to sit and chat and enjoy hot tea, while the children play with firecrackers and sparklers.  During this time, many adults also play the classic Chinese game of Mah Jong.  It is also common for families to head to the “night market” after the reunion dinner where stall after stall of brightly lit make shift stores sell an assortment of new year goodies, toys, decorations, and potted plants.  The “night markets” are the busiest on the nights of the 30th.  Everyone can join in the fun and the bustle and get last minute new year goodies.  These stalls often close on the 30th and entire makeshift bazaars can disappear over night, as even stall keepers close for the day to spend time with their own families in celebration of the new year.

Celebrating the Year of the Dragon
2012 is the year of the water dragon.  The dragon is an auspicious mythical creature in Asia, and the new year will be one full of wonderful new opportunities and ventures.  Here at Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen, we wish all of our customers a wonderful Chinese New Year, and we hope that during this joyous season, you can share in our happiness.  Here’s wishing all of you a wonderful new year ahead.


Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen’s Guide to Celebrating the Lunar New Year















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