By: Karen Diep
Chinese New Year is quite literally the Super Bowl of Chinese holidays.
It’s the most celebrated holiday on Earth (1.26 billion people and counting) and is celebrated throughout Asia in some form or another. Chinese New Year (CNY) is actually based on the lunar calendar which follows the cycles of the moon and is what farmers back in the day based their farming season on.
In Chinese tradition, the New Year celebration starts on the eve of the lunar new year which just so happens to also be Super Bowl Sunday this year (two birds, one stone!). The lunar new year is celebrated in many forms throughout Asia and the world but for the Chinese, it’s celebrated in a span of fifteen days with each day having its own special festivity. And like other cultural holidays celebrated throughout the world, the best part of Chinese New Year is–you guessed it–the food! Today I just wanted to share a few dishes that are commonly eaten during the New Year celebrations. We only get to eat these dishes once a year so you probably won’t ever see these any other time of the year.
Braised Pig’s Feet with Fat Choy (or Hair Moss)
A traditional specialty dish that in Chinese literally translates to “Get rich quick.” It’s made with pig’s feet braised in a plethora of spices and cooked slowly for a long time. It also sometimes includes a vegetable called fat choy (translates to “get rich” in Chinese) which is actually a terrestrial cyanobacterium. It looks like steel wool in its dried form but when hydrated, it looks like black hair, hence the name “hair moss.” The production of fat choy has been limited due to the erosion caused by overharvesting of the vegetable in the Gobi desert.Overall, it’s a tasty dish that’s eaten over noodles.
This isn’t a particularly special holiday dish since it can be eaten all year round and is found in almost every Chinese restaurant. Despite that, it’s a pretty awesome dish with that is always welcomed to my dinner table any time of the year. Traditionally, the duck is hung to air dry for a few days and then glazed with maltose syrup. Afterwards, it’s rinsed with water and then hung to dry again for 24 hours before being roasted in the oven. The result is an extremely flavorful duck with a crispy thin skin that goes great with a sweet and sour plum sauce. (Here’s a good modernized recipe from The Food Lab on Serious Eats)
In Chinese cooking, roast pig is usually done whole. Roast pig is usually served at major celebrations, typically weddings and, of course, CNY. Here, the pig is roasted with a variety of spices and brushed with a flavored oil throughout the baking process so that the outside becomes super crunchy-crispy and the meat on the inside remains tender and juicy. In my family, it’s normally eaten with banh hoi (thin rice vermicelli woven into fish-net like bundles).
- The Sweet Tray
Like every other cultural holiday, there’s always a selection of sweets that are for some reason only exclusive to that specific holiday. Why can’t we eat this everyday? Well, in CNY, there are a few sweets that are exclusive to the new year. Pictured here is a candy tray that contains dried coconut, lotus seed candies, White Rabbit candies, and other goods. The tray is literally named “Tray of Togetherness” or “Complete Box” and each item has its own symbolic meaning. For example, the dried coconut candies represent togetherness and the lotus seed candies (the round shaped ones) symbolize many good sons.