As a child, Chinese New Year was my favourite time of the year. Forget Christmas or birthdays … Chinese New Year was the one! You see, my father is Chinese and my mother is Vietnamese and we never really celebrated Christmas (apart from the annual Christmas dinner which became an obligatory event just to get the family together for food). We never had a Christmas tree, I never experienced the presents underneath the tree, or the excitement of having a Christmas stocking filled with goodies. So Christmas was not a special occasion in our household as child. Birthdays were the same … some years I would get a cake and a little ‘party’ but most of the time it went by without any fuss. I always use to get a birthday present of my choice though, so I guess it wasn’t all bad. I wasn’t a deprived child … honest!
Chinese New Year was a big deal though. Some of the main traditions include: the New Year’s Eve dinner – because I am married and considered to have left the family home, it is custom for me to have dinner with my in-law’s family. It was not a big deal … my in-law’s are pretty awesome! Prayers and offerings to the ancestors was also a big deal … a lot of burning incense and asking for blessings and luck.
One of my favourite New Year foods is “Joong” or “Zongzi”. These are glutinous rice dumplings, wrapped in bamboo leaves filled with yellow mung beans and seasoned belly pork. They come in different shapes and sizes and the fillings varies from family to family. My family recipe involves glutinous rice wrapped around yellow mung bean and seasoned pork belly. They are a labour of love … As a child I use to sit with my mother and watch her make these, hands red and sore from the wrapping and binding of the bamboo leaves and the secure tying of the string. Then my mother use to boil these in a large water container on a low heat for around 12 hours. Yes you read right … 12 hours!!! And having to stay up most of the night to make sure the water doesn’t dry out. It was really hard work!
The main tradition that everyone knows about in the Chinese custom is that little red envelopes are given to children or any young adult that isn’t married. You see, these little red envelopes contained money! It was good luck for the adult to give the children these little red packets of money. In Mandarin, the are called hongbao which literally translates as red packet (envelope). The actual significance of the red envelope is the red paper and not the money inside it. It is actually considered rude to open the red envelope in front of the person that has given it to you. I think as a child, I must have opened the envelope many times in front of the adult … I was too excited!
Now I am an adult. Yes, it is hard for me to say it out loud sometimes. I actually do feel like a teenager most of the time, my daughter shakes her head at me many a time when I am doing something childish. She is 10 years old. As I was starting to say, now that I am an adult it is time for me to give out the red envelopes. Considering Chinese New Year is not long after Christmas, it does leave a little dent in my purse. I dread it ….. but I do it. I give back to my unmarried younger family members and friends as well as my children. I also give to red envelopes to my parents as a sign of respect.
The red envelopes come in different shapes and sizes. Some have traditional gold writing on them, but nowadays there is a lot of cute cartoony designs. Like the ones here … they’s so adorable!
Another major aspect of Chinese New Year is food! Each year I split my time between eating dinner with my parents and dinner with my husbands family. It’s a nice and simple meal with just close family.
My mother in law came to my house during the new year to cook us a lovely meal. I was at work, so I was relieved that I didn’t have to go home and think obout cooking dinner for my hubby and kids. As I walked through the front door, the waft of freshly roasted pork was quite euphoric … and it made me super hungry. My mother in law’s crispy roast pork is a little legendary and I do need to get the recipe off her.
The belly pork is roasted with a secret blend of herbs and spices until it is crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside. It it probably the best roast pork I’ve eaten to be honest!
Also on the menu is chicken …. a traditional staple in most Oriental households. This is not your average supermarket chicken though. These chickens are known as “boilers” and are skinnier and leaner than the plumped out versions you get in the supermarkets. The meat is chewier but it has a more earthy flavour. It is boiled with the head and feet in tact – it’s good luck that way.
My mother in law also whipped up a small batch of spring rolls. These are filled with minced pork, vermicelli, and some vegetables.
And finally … some seafood to complete the meal … prawns and squid stir fried with vegetables.
Before I forget … it is year of the PIG! The Pig is actually the twelfth sign of the zodiac (one of the myths says that the Pig was last in the line of zodiac animals because he overslept when the Emperor summoned the animals to his party!). Pigs are a symbol of wealth and fortune because they are considered a bit on the chubby side. People who are born under the sign of the pig are known to be happy, honest, sincere and brave amongs other things. Click here to find more about the Chinese zodiac … it’s fun to read!
For all those that do celebrate Chinese New Year … I hope you all had a great one! May you be blessed with health, wealth and happiness … eat loads and love each other.
~ The Cake Lady xxx