For as long as I can remember, I’ve been surrounded by incredible food. Raised in Dayton, Ohio, I grew up working in the restaurant my mother owned, Mandarin Kitchen. Not surprisingly, I came to believe that food is one of the few things that brings people together, no matter what their differences. This is especially true during the holidays.
Take my favorite holiday, for example: Chinese New Year. Tradition and symbolism imbue every dish, and nothing can compare with the abundance of food served on that day.
I have crystal-clear memories of my father meticulously cooking his famous red roast duck, the enticing aromas filling every corner of the house, teasing my appetite and making my mouth water for hours on end. My dad insisted that we wait as long as it took for the duck to be falling-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth ready. My recipe for Red-Roast Chicken or Duck with Sweet Potatoes, a tribute to my father, calls for the bird to be served whole, preferably with the head and feet still attached. Why? Because in Chinese tradition, wholeness signifies prosperity and health for the entire year to come. Be sure to strain and freeze the remaining red-roast master sauce to reuse in the months ahead. Its flavor will deepen and intensify with each use.
In Chinese culture, the meaning and tradition behind the food served for this holiday meal are as important as the act of eating it with friends and family. Each dish is rich in symbolism. The recipes I offer you here combine this Eastern tradition with Western flair.
In China, pot stickers symbolize wealth, as their purse-like shape is believed to mimic gold ingots. While stuffing options are many and varied, I’ve chosen one of the all-time favorites in Western culture: classic pork and scallion.
The Tea-Smoked Beer-Battered Tempura Trout and Vegetables (Fish & Chips) echoes Eastern tradition with a distinct Western twist. When I enjoy this fish on the eve of Chinese New Year, I set a little aside to eat as leftovers for my first meal of the new year, signifying abundance in the year to come.
And no Chinese New Year celebration would be complete without noodles. In fact, because they symbolize a happy, healthy life, they are served at birthday banquets and most other family celebrations as well.
As is custom both in the East and in the West, the meal ends on a sweet note. A traditional Chinese New Year dessert called nian gao (or sticky cake) is a steamed rice-flour cake. In my version, I leave the rice whole and make Sticky Coconut Rice “Cake” with Ginger-Orange Flambé. I include oranges because guests usually bring a basket of oranges to the hosts’ home to wish them good
luck in the new year.
I hope you enjoy these Chinese New Year recipes with friends and family. From my home to yours, have a healthy, happy, prosperous new year. Gong Xi Fa Cai, and peace and good eating!