Monthly Archives: February 2015

A Particular Lunar New Years Custom

Last week I went to Mother’s home, joining the rest of the family in celebration of Lunar New Year, the Year of Goat. I stayed with my eldest brother, who is quite in-tuned with traditional customs. One custom in particular, with my personal lifestyle and current situation, maybe borderline superstition–This is another story, as a result of being far and away from my roots over the years…

As I mentioned in my previous entry, a nice custom about Lunar New Year is when everyone gets busy, in the final weeks leading to the changing time–washing their cars, cleaning their houses, shopping for new clothes, etc. That was exactly what happened in my brothers house. They rearranged furnitures, changed the living room rug, washed all the clothes, sheets, even hired a cleaning crew to deep clean the house… All this happened before New Years Day.

I, the traveler living out of her suitcase, accumulated some laundry during my stay. But the laundry machine had been occupied. So the only time I found both the machine and myself available to do the wash was after dinner on New Years Day.

So I washed my clothes on New Years Day. It was loud. The whole house could hear the machine running–Especially the dryer–when my jean buttons contantly banged on the rolling drum. My brother came and asked, “Are you doing laundry?”

“Yeah. Why? What’s wrong?”

“You’re not supposed to do laundry on New Years Day! Forget laundry, any kind of wash is sacrilege!”

“WHAT? Oh my god, REALLY?! What ghost or God did I offend now?”

“THE WATER GOD!!”

“Ugh… What am I supposed to do now with my clothes all wet?”

Realizing me not knowing the custom, my brother forgave me at once. “It’s Ok,” he said, “Don’t worry about it. Just keep drying your clothes.”

I racked my brain with causes and effects, ecological effects, philosophy and science… If washing offends Water God, should we instead on New Years Day offend people around us with B.O.? 😬

I welcome anyone who knows more about this custom to enlighten me, and to share your insight with my readers. Thanks in advance.

New Year with Sticky Rice Cake (年糕) and Fish

A colleague asked me yesterday what would be served as traditional dish during Chinese New Year. Right away I thought there would be many different celebratory dish, but what stood out were sticky rice cake and fish…

The New Years marks a time of changing cycle, changing shifts, where beginning meets the end, and where chaos would happen. So all traditions and rituals for New Years have long been established for good omen and well wishing. Sticky rice cake and fish are a good example of this tradition. It is not required to combine the two items in one dish, but both are required to be served…

Why? Because the Chinese word for “sticky,” or “粘” (nian,) has the same pronunciation as the word for “year”, or “年” (nian.) Whereas the word “fish”, or “魚” (Yu,) shares the same pronunciation with the word “surplus”, or “餘” (Yu.) Therefore, having sticky rice cake and fish on the New Years table is a good omen for the upcoming year, echoing the lucky phrase “年年有餘” (nian-nian-yo-yu), meaning “having surplus year after year.”

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Crispy Sticky Rice Cake

Sticky rice cake comes in different kinds and flavors. I am introducing today the sweet sticky rice cake made with red beans, wrapped in spring roll wrapper. This recipe was a spontaneous creation at a hot pot party years ago.

Ingredient list:

  • Store-bought or home-made red bean rice cake, 6 to 8- inch diameter
  •  Store-bought or home-made spring roll wrapper, around 6″ squares.
  •  Deep fryer
  •  Deep frying oil, a gallon, or the amount enough for your deep fryer.
  •  1/4 cup cooked white rice to be used as edible glue
  •  1 cup Water
  1. To make edible glue, in a sauce pan, mix cooked white rice with 1 cup water, stir, mash, and use high heat to bring it to boil. Reduce heat, continue stirring and mashing, until the rice-water mix is reduced to thick congee texture. Remove from heat. Then set aside to cool.
  2. Remove packaging of the sticky rice cake, if bought from store.
  3. Cut the rice cake disc into bite sized chips.
  4. Wrap each individual rice cake chips with a single sheet of spring roll wrapper. Use the edible glue to secure the end of the wrapper. Without securing, they may unravel in the deep frying process.
  5. Setup and heat deep fryer to 350 degrees
  6. Deep fry the wrapped rice cake in batches until golden brown. Drain oil and set aside to cool before serving.
red bean sticky rice cake
This is a photo of a red bean sticky rice cake, similar to a store-bought version with the packaging removed.
My version of sticky rice cake
Here’s my fried sticky rice cake being cooled right before serving. It was crispy on the outside, warm and sweet on the inside. (Yum!)

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Sautéed Tilapia for Eight

During Chinese New Year, a plate of fish is often required on the table, for the symbolism explained earlier. It doesn’t matter which kind of fish. The Asian culture cook and serve food in its entirety for wholesomeness. We cook and use all parts of animal and fish for sustainability–not to create animal waste of God’s gift. But for my western readers, I hereby publish the recipe of my famous tilapia fillet, which I cook for my in-laws every Christmas Eve.

Ingredient list:

  • 4 large fillets. 2 servings per fillet.
  • 2-inch section of Ginger root of 1″ diameter.
  • 6 stalks of scallions
  • 1 TBSP Sautéing oil
  • Salt

Preparation:

  • Sprinkle one pinch of salt on each side of fillet.
  • Cut all ginger root into thin slices. Julienne about half of the slices to be used for topping.
  • Julienne all scallions
  • Setup a frying pan with a cover

Cooking:

  1. Grease the pan with sautéing oil. Use medium high heat. Spread in the sliced ginger in the bottom of pan. Once the ginger pieces starts to bubble, lay down tilapia on top of ginger slices. Spread the julienned ginger and scallion over the fillets. Reduce to medium heat and cover.
  2. When the fish turns completely white, remove from heat and serve. If a firmer texture is desired, it may be cooked longer with cover, for about 3 to 5 more minutes.
IMG_2094
In this photo, the plate on the left had chili powder added to the plate, for those who like a kick in their tilapia. Also there are cilantro to top it off as added garnish.

I hope you enjoy these recipes…
新年快樂,恭喜發財!
(Xin-nian-kuai-le, gung-xi-fa-cai!)
Happy Chinese New Year, Congratulations for your new wealth!

Memo on Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year celebrates the New Year’s Day in the lunar calendar. This year, the Year of Goat, would start on Thursday, February 19th. The festivities are like a combined celebration of different western holidays.

It’s like Christmas, instead of gifts, children and unmarried young generation would receive red envelopes from their elders for wishes of good fortunes in the year to come. For those who don’t know, red envelopes contain cash. More on this tradition later, in a future entry.

It’s like Thanksgiving, immediate families gather for traditional meals, connecting across generations, across worlds, from the Eve through the midnight moment, into New Years Day; then extended families, relatives, and friends gather in the subsequent two days and enjoy good food and good times.

It’s like the fireworks on Fourth of July, every household lights up fire crackers at zero hour of New Years Day to scare off evil spirits. And children would play with fire crackers around this time of year.

And it’s like the solar New Year, the lunar New Year is a celebration of new beginning, with many things happening in not just one day–People would get busy even before the Eve to prepare for the new year. They would clean their houses, wash their cars, shop for new clothes to wear… And of course shopping for cooking ingredients for dishes to be served during the 3-day long celebration…

For a traditional Chinese New Year dish recipe, check back next week. 😉

The “Dry” Relations in Chinese Culture

I remember one time long ago, Mother introduced her best friend as my “Gan-ma”, and insisted for me to address Auntie Huang by that title. That was a bit weird because I had been accustomed to call her “Auntie Huang.”

Another time, well into my adulthood, my older brother introduced a woman friend to me as my “Gan-jie” (older sister)… That was even weirder because I never met, even heard of her before… And I thought why on earth did he need a younger sister? What am I, chopped liver? (In a hind sight, she turned out to be a great pal on Facebook, lol…)

So what is “Gan” exactly?

“Gan” (乾) by its literal meaning is “dry.” With that, for the sake of explanation, blood relation is “wet.” When the word “Gan” is placed in front of an immediate family title, for example, Gan-ba, Gan-ma, etc., would make the set of words become “Father or Mother ‘without blood relations.'” The closest English usage translates these words to Godfather or Godmother.

However, the Chinese do not get a Gan-ba or a Gan-ma by getting baptized. Instead, they go through a ritual…

I remember witnessing my brother’s friend becoming my mother’s Gan-son. We had a tea offering ritual, and my brother was the Moderator of Ceremony. Mother was sitting in her chair, with a huge grin on her face throughout the entire event. The new son knelt down and offered her a cup of tea. Then the MC chanted “一鞠躬…” (Yi-ju-gong…) The new son, following the MC’s cue, knocked his head once on the floor, facing Mother. MC then chanted again, “再鞠躬… 三鞠躬…” (Zai-ju-gong… San-ju-gong…) as the new son continued to knock his head two more times, before the ritual would be over.

The tea offering ritual signifies promises to each other. The deep bow or head-knocking ritual was added here because it was for a Gan-mother-and-child relation. Head knocking ritual is the utmost respect one can pay to his/her elders, or to a person of higher ranking or generation. For Gan-sibling formation, therefore, for example, the head knocking may be omitted by choice.

Once the ritual was through, two people formed a spiritual tie, and promised to regard each other as if they were related by blood. By witnessing the ceremony, I was comfortable enough to call the new son “Gan-ge” (older brother.) As for my other Gan relatives, I never verified nor witnessed the the Gan formations with Auntie Huang, nor with Gan-jie. Perhaps that’s why, deep down, I never recognized them in the way I was told.

The Gan Relation often interestingly satisfies an individual’s missing part in his/her circle. For example, I knew Auntie Huang didn’t have a daughter, which was likely why I became her “Gan-daughter”, I felt weird calling her “Gan-ma” because I already have a mom… So that didn’t stick.

In short: The Chinese would always have a way to complicate their lives, in the name of simplifying their lives.

Reporting…
From the break room.