For Chinese New Year’s, I prepared a dinner for eight to those who have never experienced a Chinese celebration. I served the usual chicken and duck (purchased from Irving Street), but added vegetable dishes that included three kinds of mushrooms (not shown in the photo above) with greens and a Fuschia Dunlop recipe of shrimp with green tea over water chestnuts, snow peas, and carrots.
The missing dish from the picture was the taro root and pork belly casserole that was still in the oven. Guests opted for cold noodle salad over black rice. Starters included lotus root chips, and a cross between Chinese salame and head cheese made with pigs’ feet in aspic from an ancient Chinese cooking manual.
Many friends and followers may not be aware of the Lunar New Year celebrated by Chinese all over the world. While it’s not a religious holiday, it’s a version of religion when the focus is on FOOD. I can’t think of another culture that places such great importance on what we eat. The Chinese, although becoming more health conscious, will still defy any food allergies or restrictions. No vegan, gluten-free, lactose-intolerant or peanut-product allergists need apply. We eat pork, chicken, lamb, beef, and fish from head to toe and everything in between. Literally.
I’ve often given a long leash to the Chinese with the notion that deprivation drove habits, desires and fetishes. And certainly food is the best example of Chinese culture in this respect. We have taken food and cooking it to a different level, for the reason of the greatest deprivations we have endured. Chinese greet each other by inquiring if they have eaten yet, not how they are. And frequent roadside conversations among friends and strangers resort to the different type of soup they are preparing or should make to cure an ailment.
So in the year of the Chicken, it’s appropriate to serve the noble bird, along with every other kind of meat you can get your hands on. It used to be an annual event when you could have meat, so the quest for meat has always been compelling in Chinese culture. Even in the land of plenty, old traditions die hard. We still like to see the twinkly eyes of the dead chicken and fish despite the Westerner’s horror at seeing them.
We have evolved over centuries and generations, to still honor our parents, focus on education, and be humble. It’s difficult to break outside the box when millions of our forebears remind you of your place in society. Yet it is a strong and compelling force. The older we get, the more alike the rest of our ancestors we become. And, it’s such not a bad place to be.
According to most Asian cultures, everyone is born into the year of some animal. They repeat every twelve years based on the lunar new year cycle. Gee Kin just discovered that, while he always thought he was a rabbit, he is actually a tiger!! Apparently, in the year he was born, the actual date of the new year was after his February birthday, not before. He never checked the dates until yesterday. So he’s now in the midst of a trans-animal personality change. It’s a pretty big flip-flop from being a bunny to a tiger. Oh dear. Now I can’t stop him from leaping from room to room and scaring the hell out of me, when he used to meekly tiptoe and be terrified of me.
If you are interested in what goes on here in San Francisco over the week of Chinese New Year’s celebrations, take a look at: https://instagram.com/p/BP0URBCjJqO/, with compliments from daughter Melissa.
And speaking of travels, my new page for 2017’s travels will be listed below the header on this page.