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What's on the Table on Chinese New Year?

What's on the Table on Chinese New Year?
Issue Time:2018-02-07

Spring Festival is the most important festival in China and it is the time that the whole family reunite and have dinner on the same table. It's tradition across China to hold a lavish feast to celebrate the lunar new year, which falls this year on January 28. In China, festive red lanterns, ear-splitting firecrackers, auspicious door decorations, and new clothes and haircuts are all part of the celebrations as families gather the evening before to see out the old year and usher in the new. For many, though, enjoying a special meal with loved ones is the most important element of all

Jiaozi, always the star of the table

It is already known to the world that jiaozi (dumpling) is the iconic food of China, especially during festivals. It is commonly eaten across Eastern, Central and Western Asia, considered part of Chinese cuisine. Jiaozi is a traditional dish eaten on Chinese New Year's Eve, the evening before Chinese New Year, and special family reunions. Extended family members may gather together to make dumpling. In Northern China, dumplings are commonly eaten with a dipping sauce made of vinegar and chili oil or paste, and occasionally with some soy sauce added in.

A common legend goes that dumplings were first invented in the era of the Donghan around 190 AD by Zhang Zhongjing, a legendary doctor in Chinese history. Once he saw the fellow villagers in his hometown suffer from chilblain on their ears. He asked his disciples to build up a tent and distributed medicines to the villagers. At the same time, he boiled a kind of soup with mutton and herbs that could drive away coldness in the body. And then he wrapped the mutton and the herbs in dough skins and called it "jiao'er", which was the original form of dumpling. After eating the jiao'er Soup, the villagers felt very warm inside and the chilblain was cured. So jiao'er, which is now called jiaozi became a food that is eaten in every household in chilly winters.

The jiaozi generally consists of minced meat and finely chopped vegetables wrapped into a piece of dough skin. The skin can be either thin and elastic or thicker. Popular meat fillings include ground pork, ground beef, shrimp, and even fish. Popular mixtures include pork with Chinese cabbage, pork with garlic chives, pork and shrimp with vegetables, pork with spring onion, and garlic chives with scrambled eggs. Filling mixtures vary depending on personal tastes and region.

Tianjiners prefer making jiaozi with a trio filling called san xian, including ground pork, shrimp and garlic chives. In addition to that, Tianjin has a local kind of veggie filling, called jin wei su, which include mung bean sprouts, coriander, smoked bean curd and vermicelli. The sauce in the stuffing is no less important than the ingredients and its name is sesame paste. It gives the dumpling a special flavor that only belongs to Tianjin

In the south, the glutinous rice cake has the equal status as jiaozi in the north. Known as nian gao, the glutinous rice cake has a auspicious meaning as nian nian gao, which literally means it gets better every year. Nian gao has various forms in different parts of China. In the north, nian gao is steamed glutinous rice cake with date or red bean paste stuffing. Sometimes you can spot a vendor selling glutinous rice cake on his bike. The northern style cake is taken as a staple food or dessert. Many people like to dip it in sugar.

In the southern part of China, people make Eight Treasure Rice Pudding (ba bao fan), which is also made of glutinous rice. The name "Eight Treasure" comes from the "eight" key ingredients that this delicious dessert has. Traditionally Chinese people use eight different kinds of dried fruits to make this dessert, such as raisins or candied winter melon.Eight Treasures Rice is also a kind of glutinous rice cake that contains marinated fruits. The number eight is a magic number for Chinese people. In Chinese, the number eight sounds like another Chinese word "fa 发", which means rich or to thrive in business. Also, because this dessert is really colorful and pretty, it represents luck and sweetness for the new year.

Food of Affluence

The Lunar New Year meal will almost always include dayu darou—literally "big fish and big meat." The phrase is used to describe any lavish feast where animal proteins play a central role, as opposed to day-to-day eating, in which meat and seafood are used much more sparingly.

A whole fish lends an impressive appearance to the dinner table, but fish is also symbolic of abundance. The Chinese phrase you yu, literally "to have fish," is a pair of homophones: yu, meaning "fish," sounds exactly the same as yu, meaning "surplus." As you eat the fish, you may therefore wish your friends niannian youyu—may you have abundance year after year!

The fish is usually steamed whole in a style commensurate with the region of China in which it's being served. In Hangzhou, it might be xi hu cu yu (West Lake vinegar fish), carp that's steamed and then drenched in an unctuous sweet vinegar sauce the color of molasses. In southern China's Guangdong Province, the fish may be served simply, drizzled with soy and sesame oil and topped with a tangle of ginger, chili, and shallots, or with a more intensely flavorful topping of ginger, black beans, and cilantro. The fish might even be deep-fried whole, like the extraordinary Suzhou squirrel fish (songshu yu)—served in a sweet-sour sauce, with the flesh cut in such a way that it springs outward like the fur of a squirrel when cooked, while the head and tail are left intact.


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Glutinous rice balls (tang yuan) are filled with red bean, sesame, peanut, and other sweet fillings that ooze out from mochi-like dumplings skins. The dumpling skins owe their pleasantly gummy texture to glutinous rice flour, which produces a chewier dough.

You'll find packets of frozen yuan xiao at most Chinese supermarkets, and these days the fillings not only come in the standard assortment, but have branched out into fancy-sounding ones like chocolate, durian, yoghurt, and "chestnut and sesame seed."

 The above news content from China Daily.


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