Chinese New Year is coming up this Sunday, February 10, and families around the world are gearing up for the festivities. 2013 marks the year of the snake, which kicks off with a 15-day festival filled with food and — for the unmarried — money handed out in bright red envelopes. We sat down with Ching-He Huang, a Chinese food expert and Cooking Channel host, for tips on exactly what to serve at a Chinese New Year’s party. Huang will host a Chinese New Year’s special, premiering Feb. 10 at 8pm ET.
As they say in Mandarin, gong xi fa cai (恭喜發財). May the new year bring you happiness and wealth.
For Chinese New Year it’s all about permanence so we want dishes that have symbolism and meaning behind them. We definitely have a fish dish served with the head and tail because that means wholeness. There’s a saying “Nian nian you yu (年年有餘)” and yu means abundance but also sounds like the word for fish. Traditionally we’d have fresh river cod but you can have any fish like bass. There are many different ways to stuff it. Put ginger and soy on it once it’s steamed and drizzle it with a little sesame oil.
Traditionally, my grandmother would pick a lot of bamboo. You would top this off with the fish along with fermented black beans and then Chinese olives which are very salty and briny in flavor.
Roasted Animal 烤:
So you want a roasted animal. A roasted pig if you’re lucky to have it. The animal is served whole because it symbolizes unity and completeness. You can also have a duck or chicken. It just depends on the tradition. You boiled it with herbs like goji berries, Chinese dates and shan sen, a Chinese herb (沙參). Once it’s boiled it can be hung up to dry so that the skin is like paper. Flash fry it so that it’s really crispy. Add some fresh herbs to really balance the sweetness of the fish.
Noodles symbolize longevity. You’ve got to have uncut noodles. In Taiwan we’d have mi sua (麵線). We’d take the fish out, add minced garlic and sesame oil and then top it with the noodles. And that would be it. But you can also make a cold noodle salad and top it with cucumber, bean sprouts and sesame sauce.
The dumplings should be sweet or savory. For dessert, you eat them during the 15th day of celebration during yuan xiao (元宵) when the moon is at its roundest. The dessert is called tang yuan (湯圓). You stuff it with sesame paste which is ground up with sugar. Or you can stuff it with green bean or red bean and cook it in rock sugar. Some people like to add a bit of orange peel as well and sweet herbs. In our family, we like it with ginger and rock sugar.
You want apples and oranges. Apples symbolize peace. Oranges symbolize wealth and luck.
Steamed Rice Cake 年糕:
You can buy this in stores but you can also make it. Get brown sugar and then melt it with hot water. And once that’s cold, you mix it with glutinous-style dough and knead it. Put it in the steamer and then let it set. Cut it up, fry it and then coat it in a little bit of sugar. It’s so good. The Chinese word for rice cake, nian gao (年糕) is attributed to nian nian gao sheng (年年糕神) which means every year you’ll rise in the ranks in terms of career and money.