According to the Lunar calendar, New Year arrives today, February 19, 2015 on the Gregorian calendar. That is, while we in the western world celebrated the new year two months ago, many members of the world’s Asian communities will feast this week. According to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, which employs the 10 “Heavenly” Stem and 12 “Earthly” Branch counting system (days, months, year), the coming year (4712) is that of a female wood “sheep.” Though, the specific Chinese word or character for the astrological “sign” can also mean “goat” or “ram.”
[Happy “small four-legged ruminant animal” year?]
Yesterday, most families, besides madly dashing to prep and cook a traditional meal for New Year’s Eve, cleaned their homes meticulously. One of the more popular superstitions, if you sweep or wash your house on New Year’s Day, you risk sweeping away your annual allotment of luck; luck being granular. A similar superstition involves cutting and washing your hair; luck being water soluble too. So, salons and barbers may have seen a spike in business this past week. That said, you need to set good “precedents” for the new year. Lend nothing. Refrain from using profanity or speaking ill of others. And, you really should have paid off any debts beforehand, so you can start the year with a “clean slate.”
[We’re not getting into the murky subject of “lucky” money, which is normally distributed in paired red envelops…]
Needless to say, the week’s celebrations will involve many competing traditions, some of which involve food. Families celebrates somewhat differently from one another. For instance, I’m not giving up my kitchen knives anytime during the new year. However, I will get them sharpened as per the recommended custom.
[Long (longevity) “e-fu” noodle soup with pork meat balls, whole shrimp, Shanghai Bok Choy, and “lo sui” stained eggs]
Food wise, there is much symbolism. Serving long uncut noodles involves wishing your diners long life. A whole chicken represents family unity (also “togetherness”). While ducks are sometimes seen as lazy, they also represent fidelity. Seeds, particularly lotus, signify fertility. In the Chinese language, the word for fish sounds like the word for “plentifulness” (also “abundance”), so whole fish is served. The word for lettuce sounds like rising fortune, so lettuce wraps are served. Round cakes, both savoury (turnip cake) and sweet (new year rice cake) are served because they signify family reunion. The word for cake sounds like “high achievement.” Finally, there is much good fortune in displaying tangerines and serving dumplings (that can resemble ingots or taels of gold and silver from days of old).
Born and raised in Ottawa, Jenn and I find people celebrate the lunar new year and practice the related traditions more for continuity. Children of Chinese, but Canadian-educated, immigrants, we were brought up with the traditions. We will pass them onto our children. It’s something cultural. We identify with the traditions.
Therein lies the dilemma. There seems to be so many “dos” and “dont’s” involved in wishing one another good health and fortune. Our advice, don’t worry about committing a faux pas.
When I asked prominent local parenting Twitterati about our writing a post on the lunar new year, one remarked,
I think it’ll interest people. I just don’t think we’re your target audience.
If you[‘re] specifically targeting me, it needs to be easy to find ingredients, not too hard to make and somehow kid-friendly.
I was taken aback. Do we seem arrogant enough to insist busy families celebrate an essentially “foreign” new year, whose symbolism is based on a language to which they likely have little exposure? Of course not! We do however encourage them to use the lunar new year as an excuse like Valentine’s Day. You see, Jenn and I don’t observe Valentine’s. We use the greeting card holiday as an opportunity to celebrate our togetherness, not the reason. So too can the lunar new year provide exposure to another of Canada’s cultures. Celebrate with a family meal, cherry-picking whatever traditions interest you. Eat what you like. Wish one another well.
Loblaws, in association with Hill+Knowlton Canada: Public Relations (@hkstrategies) would like to help lower some barriers, so armed us with a number of recipes and a gift card. Then, they directed us to the “College Square” grocery store location (1980 Baseline Road), next to Algonquin College. There, we shopped for ingredients and decorations.
Loblaws Superstore (190 Richmond Road) (we took a detour)
Loblaws (1980 Baseline Road)
In all honesty, Loblaws is trying valiantly to expose Chinese New Year to its shoppers with large stand-alone and colourful end-of-aisle displays. Ever since it acquired Vancouver-chain “T&T,” Loblaws’ locations both regular and Superstore upped their offer of in-house branded Asian grocery items. Dedicated “ethnic” aisles are no longer uncommon. Combined with an earnestness to appeal to customers who shop at dedicated ethnic grocery stores, Loblaws observes many ethno-cultural events.
The dish we chose to prepare was “Wok-fried Four Fortune New year Rice Cake Pasta.” Its recipe was developed by Stephanie Yuen for Loblaws Companies Limited. Yuen is half of the team behind the longstanding Beyond Chopsticks website and blog. Her recipe follows:
- 4 pc. T&T dried shiitake mushrooms, rinse and soak in 1 cup hot water for 30 to 45 minutes in advance, or until mushrooms are softened completely.
- 2 pc. Lean pork and/or chicken sausages (lap-cheung); halved horizontally, then julienne diagonally. (Can be substituted by carrots or onion)
- 2 Tbsp. cooking oil
- 1 tsp. chopped garlic
- 1 tsp. chopped ginger
- 1 cup yellow bean; cut in half
- 1 small red pepper; cut in strips
- 21 pkg (1.5 lb) New Year Rice Cake
- 1 Tbsp. teriyaki sauce
- 1 Tbsp. T&T soy sauce
- 1 tsp. granulated sugar
- Remove mushroom cap and julienne
- Heat wok on high, add oil, garlic and ginger, mix well
- Add sausage and mushroom, stir and cook for 1 minute
- Add yellow bean, stir and cook for 30 seconds, add red pepper, stir and cook for another 30 second.
- Empty rice cake into the wok, stir well.
- Add ½ cup of mushroom water, mix well. Add teriyaki sauce, soy sauce and sugar, stir well. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Discard remaining mushroom water.
- Remove lid, stir and cook for another minute. Ready to serve.
And, what happened when we tried sourcing the ingredients at one of Ottawa’s larger Loblaws locations?
We weren’t entirely successful. Principal ingredients like lap cheung (Chinese sausage) and sliced rice cakes were not available, which we verified by asking customer service for assistance. In fact, scanning through the remaining provided recipes, other principal ingredients were likewise not available: whole tilapia with head still attached (“A Fish of Bounty”); e-fu noodles (“Braised e-fu Noodles”); and Chinese Shaoh Tsing rice wine (“Lion’s Head Meatballs with Shanghai Bok Choi”).
[Though, for our Chinese New Year segment on CTV Ottawa Morning Live, staff at the College Square Loblaws, couldn’t “find” Thai Kitchen brand fish sauce, which my sister-in-law had no problems spotting. The staffer we spoke with claimed, “Fish sauce? That wouldn’t sell well. I highly doubt we have it.”]
Something redeeming, the College Square location did have the required ingredients to make rice cakes.
So we procured our missing ingredients elsewhere.
Finally, we prepared the dish vegetarian as it is auspicious to eat “jai” during Chinese New Year.
What Yuen’s recipe doesn’t point out involves dried rice cakes requiring 6-12 hours to hydrate. If you have room in your freezer, we strongly suggest purchasing frozen rice cakes from an Asian grocery store. To prepare them, cook from frozen.
[The recipe’s stir-fry instructions are very good.]
More of a Korean tradition, rice cakes or “tteokguk” have a similar symbolism to the Chinese tradition of long life noodles. Normally long tubes, the cakes represent long life. Their white colour represents purity for the coming year.
Want to know something we think is more accessible with which to celebrate the Lunar New Year? Wings! Our American neighbours eat approximately 1.25 billion of them during Super Bowl weekend. That’s a lot of flightless fowl. Yes, whole chicken may be more traditional, but wings seem more celebratory. Guess which part of the chicken I reach for first when I’m presented with a chicken at a Chinese New Year banquet?
Fish Sauce Chicken Wings
[modified from ChefSteps’ Chicken Wings and Andy Ricker’s “Ike’s Vietnamese Fish-Sauce Wings” from Pok Pok]
What You’ll Need:
- 20 chicken wings
- Water with which to pressure steam the wings
- Salt to season (preferably Kosher)
- Non-glutinous rice starch (tapioca or corn starch work; in fact equal parts of all three works best)
- High smoke point oil for frying
- 1 cup Vietnamese “nuoc cham” (ubiquitous dipping sauce for all things fried; click here for recipe)
- Place all of your wings in the steamer attachment of a pressure cooker.
- Add about 2 cm (1″) of water to the bottom of the pressure cooker.
- Pressure steam the wings for 15 minutes. Let the pressure dissipate naturally (i.e. do not use the pressure valve).
- Spread the wings on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
- Place the pan in the fridge for 2 hours. This dries the skin.
- Pre-heat oil in a large pot to 375F – 380F. Do not let the oil go over 400F. Many breakdown at that temperature.
- Season the wings with salt.
- Coat the wings in rice starch.
- Fry the wings until well coloured.
- Remove the wings from the fryer and place them onto a rack-lined sheet pan.
- Let the wings stand for a minute for the coating to set.
- Toss in the nuac cham.
Not auspicious enough? Stuff the wings by forgoing the pressure steam. Opt for a 1.5% by weight brine (at least 12 hours), bone out the wingette and fill the cavity with standard pork dumpling stuffing (finely ground pork, chopped napa cabbage, chopped shiitake mushroom). Then, coat, fry, and dress as per the above recipe.
However you celebrate, we from foodiePrints wish you a Happy Lunar New Year. Eat well and spend some time with your loved ones!
Tags: ChefSteps, Chinese New Year, featured, HKStrategies, Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore, sponsored