Chinese New Year Traditions
Even though the climax of the Chinese New Year, Nian, lasts only two or three days including the New Year’s Eve, the New Year season extends from the mid-twelfth month of the previous year to the middle of the first month of the new year. A month from the New Year, it is a good time for business. People will pour out their money to buy presents, decoration material, food and clothing. Transportation department, railroad in particular, is nervously waiting for the onslaught of swarms of travellers who take their days off around the New Year to rush back home for a family reunion from all parts of the country.
Days before the New Year, every family is busy giving its house a thorough cleaning, hoping to sweep away all the ill-fortune there may have been in the family to make way for the wishful in-coming good luck. People also give their doors and window-panes a new paint, usually in red color. They decorate the doors and windows with paper-cuts and couplets with the very popular theme of “happiness”, “wealth”, “longevity” and “satisfactory marriage with more children”. Paintings of the same theme are put up in the house on top of the newly mounted wall paper. In the old days, various kinds of food are tributed at the Alta of ancestors.
The Eve of the New Year is very carefully observed. Supper is a feast, with all members coming together. One of the most popular course is jiaozi, dumplings boiled in water. “Jiaozi” in Chinese literally mean “sleep together and have sons”, a long-lost good wish for a family. After dinner, it is time for the whole family to sit up for the night while having fun playing cards or board games or watching TV programs dedicated to the occasion. Every light is supposed to be kept on the whole night. At midnight, the whole sky will be lit up by fireworks and firecrackers make everywhere seem like a war zone. People’s excitement reach its zenith. Very early the next morning, children greet their parents and receive their presents in terms of cash wrapped up in red paper packages from them. Then, the family start out to say greetings from door to door, first their relatives and then their neighbors. It is a great time for reconciliation. Old grudges are very easily cast away during the greetings. The air is permeated with warmth and friendliness. During and several days following the New Year’s day, people are visiting each other, with a great deal of exchange of gifts. The New Year atmosphere is brought to an anti-climax fifteen days away where the Festival of Lanterns sets in. It is an occasion of lantern shows and folk dances everywhere. One typical food is the Tang Yuan, another kind of dumplings made of sweet rice rolled into balls and stuffed with either sweet or spicy fillings.
History of Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year history is rich and diverse. This year the Chinese New Year is on January 29 th.
The Chinese New Year is very similar to the Western one, wrapped in traditions and rituals. The history of the Chinese New Year is so old that its origins are lost in the mists of time. It is popularly recognized as the Spring Festival and celebrations last 15 days.
It is said that in ancient times, the feudal rulers placed great importance on Chinese New Year celebrations and organized grand ceremonies to mark this event.
Preparations tend to begin a month from the date of the Chinese New Year as people start buying presents, decoration materials, food and clothing. A huge clean-up gets underway days before the New Year , when Chinese houses are cleaned from top to bottom, to sweep away any traces of bad luck, and doors and windowpanes are given a new coat of paint, usually red. The doors and windows are then decorated with paper cuts and couplets with themes such as happiness, wealth and longevity printed on them.
In the history it’s mentioned that Chinese peasants eagerly wait for this day because it is on this day that the kitchen God is supposed to depart away to the lord of heaven (known as to the Jade Emperor) to report about the family. During his absence-that is, the period in which He leaves the kitchen only to return in the New Year -the family members clean up the house and make a fresh start to welcome the God as well as the new promising year.
Historically speaking, the Chinese New Year Day has practically been regarded as the only day of the year when China’s hard-working peasants allowed themselves to rest.
The eve of the Chinese New Year is perhaps the most exciting part of the event in the history of time, as anticipation creeps in. Here, traditions and rituals are very carefully observed in everything from food to clothing. Dinner is usually a feast of seafood and dumplings, signifying different good wishes. Delicacies include prawns, for liveliness and happiness, dried oysters (or ho xi), for all things good, raw fish salad or yu sheng to bring good luck and prosperity.
It’s usual to wear something red as this color is meant to ward off evil spirits – but black and white are out, as these are associated with mourning. After dinner, the family sit up for the night playing cards, board games or watching TV programmes dedicated to the occasion. At midnight, fireworks to mark the Chinese New Year welcome light up the sky.
On the Chinese New Year day itself in history , an ancient custom called Hong Bao, meaning Red Packet, takes place. This involves married couples giving children and unmarried adults money in red envelopes. Then the family begins to wish greetings from door to door, first to their relatives and then their neighbours. Like the Western saying “let bygones be bygones,” at Chinese New Year , grudges are very easily cast aside.
The end of the New Year is marked by the Festival of Lanterns, which is a celebration with singing, dancing and lantern shows.
Although celebrations of the Chinese New Year vary, the underlying message is one of peace and happiness for family members and friends.
Traditional New Year Foods
Probably more food is consumed during the New Year celebrations than any other time of the year. Vast amounts of traditional food is prepared for family and friends, as well as those close to us who have died.
On New Year’s Day, the Chinese family will eat a vegetarian dish called jai. Although the various ingredients in jai are root vegetables or fibrous vegetables, many people attribute various superstitious aspects to them:
•Lotus seed – signify having many male offspring
•Ginkgo nut – represents silver ingots
•Black moss seaweed – is a homonym for exceeding in wealth
•Dried bean curd is another homonym for fulfillment of wealth and happiness
•Bamboo shoots – is a term which sounds like “wishing that everything would be well” •Fresh bean curd or tofu is not included as it is white and unlucky for New Year as the color signifies death and misfortune.
Other foods include a whole fish, to represent togetherness and abundance, and a chicken for prosperity. The chicken must be presented with a head, tail and feet to symbolize completeness. Noodles should be uncut, as they represent long life. In south China, the favorite and most typical dishes were nian gao, sweet steamed glutinous rice pudding and zong zi (glutinous rice wrapped up in reed leaves), another popular delicacy. In the north, steamed-wheat bread (man tou) and small meat dumplings were the preferred food. The tremendous amount of food prepared at this time was meant to symbolize abundance and wealth for the household
Traditional New Year Recipes
Jien Duy (Sweet Sesame Seed Ball)
Jien duy are deep fried, puffed, glutinous rice balls filled with red or black bean or lotus paste and covered with sesame seeds. The small rounds of dough transform into large airy puffs when fried. The belief is that successful businesses are created similarly: the entrepreneur can turn a small amount of capital into a big return. These treats can be found at any deem sum house. The following recipe is from renowned chef Joyce Jue.
- 1-1/3 cups water
- 4 or 5 sticks Chinese brown slab sugar
- 1 pound glutinous rice powder/flour
- 1 cup canned sweet red bean paste filling (or black bean or lotus paste)
- 1/2 cup sesame seeds
- Peanut oil for deep frying
Bring water and sugar to a boil, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Put rice powder into a large bowl. While the sugar-water is still hot, slowly stir it into the rice powder. Gather up the dough and knead until smooth. Roll dough into two 1 1/2-inch-thick logs. Cut each into 1 1/2-inch rounds. Using the palms of your hands, roll one round into a ball. Flatten ball and place a 1/2 inch piece of bean paste in the center. Fold dough over and roll into a smooth ball to enclose the filling. Wet your hand and dip ball into sesame seeds to coat the surface of the ball. Press lightly to help the seeds adhere. Set aside, covered. Repeat with remaining dough.
Heat 3 inches of oil to 325 degrees. Carefully slip a few balls into hot oil and gently fry for 12 to 15 minutes. After the first 3 minutes, gently squeeze balls every few minutes with a pair of wooden cooking chopsticks. This helps the balls to expand. Continue squeezing and turning balls until they are gold brown and feel full of air. Drain on paper towels. Cool before serving.
Makes 16 balls.
Yu Saang (Chinese New Year Raw Fish Salad)
The quality and freshness of the fish is crucial for the success of the dish. Purchase the fish from a Japanese fish shop that specializes in sashimi, or a reliable fishmonger. To facilitate the very fine shredding of the radish carrot, use a mandolin or the fine shredding disc of a food processor.
- 1/2 pound fresh sashimi-grade tuna or striped bass fillet (about a 6-inch by 2-inch piece)
- 2 cups peeled, finely shredded Chinese white radish (daikon)
- 2 cups peeled, finely shredded carrot
- 6 thin quarter-sized slices of fresh young ginger, finely shredded
- 1/3 cup finely shredded sweet preserved pickled ginger (see Note).
- 1/4 cup finely shredded pickled scallions (see Note).
- 6 fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded (Optional, see Note).
- 1 large red jalapeno chili, seeded and finely shredded
- 1/2 bunch green onions, finely shredded
- 1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves only
- 1/4 cup chopped peanuts
- Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
- 1 lime or lemon, cut in half and seeded
- Crisp fried shrimp chips or fried rice stick noodles, for garnish
- 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 tablespoon Asian sesame oil (toasted sesame oil)
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon five-spice powder
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Chill fish until firm. Cut into paper-thin, 2-inch long slices against the grain; set aside. In separate bowls, cover radishes and carrots with cold water; set aside until ready to assemble the salad. Then, rinse and squeeze out excess water.
- To assemble the salad, toss fish slices with marinade ingredients. Place fish in center of a platter. Arrange daikon and carrot shreds around fish. Scatter fresh and pickled ginger, the pickled scallions, lime leaves, chilies, green onions and cilantro over fish. Sprinkle with peanuts and sesame seeds.
- Just before serving, squeeze the lime or lemon juice over all.
- It is customary for everyone to join in and toss the salad.
- Using chopsticks, each diner digs from the bottom of the salad and lifts the ingredients to mix together.
- When the salad is fully tossed, taste for seasoning. Adjust with sesame oil, lime juice, and some of the juices from the vegetables.
- Garnish with shrimp chips or fried rice stick noodles.
- Serves 4 to 6.
Jiaozi, or Chinese Boiled Dumplings
Note: Ingredients taken from the Jeff Smith’s The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines. Dumpling construction technique courtesy of Mrs. Jen Y. Chong.
makes about 36 dumplings
- Place dumpling skin in the palm of your hand. Dip a finger in cold water and wet the edges of the dumpling skin.
- Spoon a lump of filling (approx. 1 Tbsp.) into the middle of the skin.
- Fold dumpling in half. Pinch top of semi-circle together.
- Push in on both sides of dumpling, so that the dumpling should look like the letter “I” from the top.
- Bend one half of each “top” of the “I” and press against middle edge of dumpling. Seal all edges of dumpling.
- Your dumpling should look like a half-moon with a big bulge in the middle!
To cook, drop into a big pot of boiling water under they float to the surface. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Chinese New Year Recipes
For the Dough:
- 2 1/2 C unsifted flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 C boiling water
- 1 Tbsp. lard, cut up into little pieces
Mix the flour and salt. Add the boiling water and stir with chopsticks. Add the lard. Knead all and let rest on a plastic counter under a bowl for 20 minutes.
To make dumpling skins: Break off a piece of the dough the size of 1 teaspoon. Keep the rest of the dough under the bowl. Roll the dough into a ball and then roll out into a 3-inch circle. You may need extra flour for this. Or, use a tortilla press that has been very lightly oiled with peanut oil on a paper towel. This gets you going and the rest of the rolling is easy. To store skins until use, dust each skin lightly with flour and stack on top of one another.
If you are pressed for time, you may want to purchase a package of pre-made dumpling skins (the round ones) from any Asian supermarket. Don’t buy the square ones–those are for won-tons!
For the Filling:
- 1 cup finely chopped Napa cabbage
- 1 lb. lean ground pork
- 2 Tbsp. light soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp. dry sherry
- 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
- 1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
- 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp. MSG (optional)
- Pinch of sugar
- 1 Tbsp. chopped green onion
- 1 egg white
- 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 1 tsp. salt
- 4 Tbsp. medium chopped bamboo shoots or water chestnuts (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
Sprinkle salt on chopped cabbage and let sit in a colander for 30 min. Squeeze dry (either by hand or in a potato ricer) and place into bowl. Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix well. Also add a splash of chili paste, to taste.
Chinese New Year is just around the corner. This year Chinese New Year falls on 29 th January. People celebrate this day in a variety of ways. Food is also one of the important aspects of the Spring Festival i.e. the Chinese New Year. Many of the foods served at New Year have symbolic meanings. Some foods have a name, which sounds the same as a character with a lucky meaning, and for some foods their shape and color are emblems of words special to the Spring Festival such as happiness, prosperity fortune or luck.
We have presented with a wide range of recipes for Chinese New Year for you to enjoy with your family and friends.
Egg Drop Soup
You will Need:
2 cans chicken broth or the equivalent in vegetarian chicken flavored broth
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 well-beaten egg
- 2 tablespoons sliced green onion
1. In a saucepan, stir chicken broth into cornstarch. Cook until slightly thickened.
2. Pour in egg, stirring gently. Remove from heat.
3. Garnish with green onion. Enjoy!
Chinese New Year Cakes
You will Need:
- 1 and 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup water or milk
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 2/3 cup sesame seeds
- Cooking oil for deep fat frying
1. Combine first four dry ingredients.
2. Mix together the eggs, water or milk, and the cooking oil. Stir into flour mixture.
3. Drop spoonfuls of batter into a bowl of sesame seeds. Coat on both sides. Let stand 15 minutes..
4. Deep fry cakes until puffy and golden brown. Let drain on paper towel. Serve warm. Enjoy!
For the dough
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cup ice cold water (as needed)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Filling
- 1 cup ground pork or beef
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper, or to taste
- 3 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1/2 green onion, finely minced
- 1 1/2 cup finely shredded Napa cabbage
- 4 tablespoons shredded bamboo shoots
- 2 slices fresh ginger, finely minced
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
1. Stir the salt into the flour. Slowly stir in the cold water, adding as much as is necessary to form a smooth dough. Don’t add more water than is necessary. Knead the dough into a smooth ball. Cover the dough and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. While the dough is resting, prepare the filling ingredients. Add the soy sauce, salt, rice wine and white pepper to the meat, stirring in only one direction. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring in the same direction, and mix well.
2. To make the dumpling dough: knead the dough until it forms a smooth ball.
3. Divide the dough into 60 pieces. Roll each piece out into a circle about 3-inches in diameter. Place a small portion (about 1 level tablespoon) of the filling into the middle of each wrapper. Wet the edges of the dumpling with water. Fold the dough over the filling into a half moon shape and pinch the edges to seal.
4. Continue with the remainder of the dumplings. To cook, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add half the dumplings, giving them a gentle stir so they don’t stick together. Bring the water to a boil, and add 1/2 cup of cold water. Cover and repeat. When the dumplings come to a boil for a third time, they are ready. Drain and remove. If desired, they can be pan-fried at this point.
- 1 pound thin rice noodles, soaked in cold water for 2 hours, and drained
- 1 pound baby shrimps, without shells, deveined, rinsed and drained
- 1 skinless chicken breast, 1/4-inch strips
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons thin soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- Canola oil, to cook
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1/2 cup scallions batons, 1-inch lengths
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/2 pound bean sprout, picked
- 1 red bell pepper, julienned
- 1 onion, julienned
- 2 eggs, lightly scrambled
- 2 tablespoons Madras curry powder
- Salt and white pepper to taste
Marinate shrimp and sliced chicken together in soy sauce, wine, cornstarch and white pepper for 20 minutes. In a hot wok coated well with oil, stir fry ginger, scallions and garlic. Add marinated shrimp and chicken to oil and stir-fry quickly for 30 seconds to one minute. Remove shrimp and chicken and set aside. Use same oil to stir fry bean sprouts, peppers and onions. Season and cook for 1 minute and set aside. Wipe out wok and coat well with oil. When oil is smoking hot, add 2 beaten eggs and rotate the pan so as to quickly spread the eggs into a pancake shape. While the egg is still partially fluid, add rice noodles to the wok. Stir and fold noodles and the eggs should be broken up into small pieces and dispersed uniformly. Continue to stir to avoid noodles from sticking to the pan. Add curry powder and check for seasoning. When noodles are steaming hot, add back shrimp, chicken and vegetables to the noodles and continue to mix and stir until everything is steaming hot.
Mandarin Fried Rice
It is recommended to use day-old rice so that the drier rice can soak up the flavors.
- Canola oil
- 3 eggs
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 bunch chopped scallions, green and white separated
- 1 lapchang, diced (Chinese sausage), can substitute with 4 strips of cooked bacon
- 8 cups cooked, day-old long grain rice
- 3 tablespoons thin soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- Salt to taste
In a wok, add 2 tablespoons of oil and quickly soft-scramble the eggs. Remove the eggs. In the same wok, coat with oil and stir-fry garlic and ginger. Add white scallions and lapchang. Add rice and mix thoroughly. Add soy sauce, white pepper and scrambled eggs. Check for seasoning. Serve immediately.
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken, cut in large chunks
- 1/3 C cornstarch
- 1 small zucchini, cut into chunks
- 2 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 tbsp. chopped green onion
- 1/4 C chicken broth
- 1 tsp. oyster sauce
- 1/4 tsp. hot pepper paste
- 1 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 tbsp. rice wine
- 3 tbsp. rice vinegar
- 1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch mixed with 1 1/2 tbsp. water
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- Cut the chicken and coat it with cornstarch. Set aside (discard any extra cornstarch). Slice the zucchini on a shallow diagonal about 1″ wide. Roll the zuchhini halfway and slice the same way to form chunks that are shaped like trapezoids. Set aside.
- Combine garlic and green onion in a small dish. Combine broth, oyster sauce, soy sauce, hot pepper sauce, wine, and vinegar in a small bowl. In another dish or small glass, mix cornstarch with water. Place a metal strainer in a large receptacle (not plastic) in the kitchen sink.
- Heat wok over high heat for two to three minutes. Add vegetable oil; heat until VERY hot. Add chicken; stir to break it up. Fry until golden brown – the color of fried chicken. Transfer chicken to strainer.
- Place empty wok back on high heat for 30 seconds. Add garlic mixture and fry for several seconds. Add zucchini and toss a minute over high heat. Add sauce mixture and bring to a boil. Add cornstarch and boil until thickened. Add chicken and sesame oil and heat through. Serve with hot steamed rice. Serves 4 to 8 as part of a larger meal.
Chinese Sticky Cake (Nian Gao)
3/4 cup water
1. In a small pan, boil water.
This steamed fruit cake is a favorite for Chinese New Year.