This year Chinese New Year falls on January 28th and many people now celebrate it, whether due to cultural reasons or simply their love of the cuisine. So if you are having a gathered for the event, what kind of Chinese New Year food should you prepare?
What is Chinese New Year?
The Chinese New Year is celebrated at the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar and falls on the first day of the new moon between 21st January and 20th February. Unlike the western New Year, this means that the event happens on different dates each year. The celebration is centuries old and is seen as a time to honour ancestors and is now celebrated around the world as Chinese culture has spread with people from the country. it is also celebrated in some Asian countries including Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
Chinese New Year food traditions
There are a number of traditions surrounding Chinese New Year food that help you decide what to serve when, if you are aiming for a more traditional menu. For example, a reunion dinner called the Nian Ye Fan is held on New Year’s Eve – this is a family meal where everyone gets together and is usually held in the home of the senior family member.
This is a proper banquet with several meat dishes including pork and chicken as well as fish. There is often a hot pot along with speciality dishes depending on the region, such as Chinese sausage and seafood. Red packets are given out during the gathering that reflect good luck and honourability, sometimes containing money in certain numbers.
Food also has different symbolic meanings in Chinese culture so different ingredients have special associations. Examples include:
- Apple – wisdom, peace
- Apricot – gold, wealth
- Bamboo shoots – wealth
- Bean sprouts – positive start to the New Year
- Chicken – prosperity, togetherness of family
- Duck – fertility
- Egg – fertility
- Maize – growth
- Noodle – long life when uncut
- Onion – cleverness
- Rice – fertility, luck, wealth
- Shrimp – happiness, good fortune
- Water chestnuts – unity
For everyone who is celebrating Chinese New Year but perhaps not to the full traditional degree, it is a great time to enjoy those Chinese style favourites. Sweet and sour dishes are always a popular option and even soups can be a way to enjoy the occasion without a large meal.
An example is the Hot and Sour Prawn Sweetcorn Soup from BBC Good Food. It uses 1.5 litres chicken stock, 1 tsp white caster sugar and 1 tbsp. Chinese black rice vinegar, cider or white wine vinegar. Add this with half a red chili and a thumb sized piece of ginger into a pan and simmer. Add to this ½ pack silken tofu, handful frozen sweetcorn and 150 grams of cooked prawns and cook for another two minutes. Finally, add 2 eggs beaten with sesame oil to make egg strands. Add the soup to the bowl with some beansprouts and shredded spring onions.
Another quick meal for four people that would be great to celebrate the occasion is Chicken on Crispy Noodles. You will need:
- 225g boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 egg white
- 2 tsp cornflour
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp white pepper
For the noodles:
- 225 g thin egg noodles
- 300ml groundnut or vegetable oil
- 175g beansprouts
- 2 tbsp. Shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry)
- 2 tbsp. oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp. light soy sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp. cornflour mixed with 1.5 tbsp. water
- 3 tbsp. chopped spring onions for garnishing
Cut the chicken into strips and add the egg white, cornflour, salt and pepper into a bowl. Mix in the chicken until coated then cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes
Blanch the noodles for 2-3 minutes in salted water or follow the instructions on the packed. Drain and spread on a baking tray to cool.
Heat the wok with the oil and deep fry the noodles until crispy then place again to one side.
Add the chicken, stirring to stop them sticking to the pan and once cooked, remove.
Clean out the wok and add the beansprouts, rice wine, sauces, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Boil and then reduce the heat, adding the cornflour mixture then simmering. Add the chicken until coated. To serve, place noodles on a plate and spoon the chicken mixture on the top then garnish with spring onions.
If you don’t want to make something from scratch, many of the supermarkets have big deals on with Chinese themed food. Don’t forget though, your local Chinese takeaway will probably be closed for the celebration!
What’s your favourite Chinese flavour? And what will you be doing for Chinese New Year food?