Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Have a "Sweet" Chinese New Year

First of all, Happy Chinese New Year!  I wish everyone will have a great "dragon" year.

Chinese New Year Eve family dinner
from my friend's picture on facebook

My highschool's frined New Year Eve's dinner
with her in-laws

My friend's back home was having
some great food with her family on New Year Eve.
As many of you know that Chinese like to eat to celebrate major festivals.   Most of the dishes we made for the new year celebration symbolize good fortune and good health.  Chinese like playing with words and symbols.  Often homonyms (words that share the same pronunciation but have different meanings and characters) are used.  Names of dishes and/or their ingredients, which will be served sound similar to words and phrases referring to wishes expressed during the Chinese New Year, while other foods hold a symbolic meaning (source from One World - National Online). 

Different styles and prints of red pockets/red envelopes
(Picture from

"Full Box"
(Picture from

As a kid, Chinese New Year was fun because the parents usually have the first 3 days off (official paid holidays) and the family visit different relative's house during the first 2 days of the new year (in Chinese tradition, each family should prepare a full box of different goodies (we call this box "Full Box" meaning full in every aspect the upcoming year) to welcome their guests.  They could be candies, roasted seeds, sugar covered lotus seeds or lotus wheels, etc.) and on the top of eating, the kids or people who are single receive "red pocket/red envelope" from elders and/or married couples. 

My grand mom got up very early (about 4-5am) the first day of the new year.  She got up early to prepare the dough for making sesame seed balls (Zeen Doy) and Chinese sweet empanadas (both usually filled with sesame paste or redbean paste).  My sister and I helped my grand mom to roll the dough and stuff the filling inside the sesame seed balls or the sweet empandas.  It's so fun to watch my grand mom putting the balls and the empanadas in a big hot wok to deep frying these goodies. 
Cantonese style nian gao
(Picture from Wikipedia)
 Another very common sweet item we eat during Chinese New Year is nian gao ("nian gao" is a homonym for "higher year." The Chinese word 粘 (nián), meaning "sticky", is identical in sound to 年, meaning "year", and the word 糕 (gāo), meaning "cake" is identical in sound to 高, meaning "high".).  Nian gao is prepared from glutinous rice.  Different regions in China have their own version of nian gao.  Since I was born and raised in Macau, and we got influenced by the southern portion of China, I am more familar with the version of nian gao served in Canton.  Below is the information I found from Wikipedia:
The Cantonese nian gao is usually sweetened with brown sugar. It is distinct with a dark yellow color. The paste is poured into a cake pan and steamed once more to settle mixture. The batter is steamed until it solidifies and served in thick slices. It may be eaten as is. The nian gao becomes stretchy and extremely sticky. It can also be served as a pudding flavored with rosewater or red bean paste.

Pan-fried nian gao
(Picture from Wikipedia)
The next stage is optional as it can be pan-fried afterwards,often with egg, to make (煎年糕, jyutping: zin1 nin4 gou1; pinyin: jiān nián gāo). When fried it is slightly crispy on the outside, and remains pasty on the inside. During Chinese New Year, it is cut into square pieces and served along with similar cake dim sum dishes like taro cake and water chestnut cake.


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