I grew up in a household where Lunar New Year was the biggest holiday. Growing up, my sisters and I would stay up until almost midnight just so our family could bring in the new year together over dinner. My parents would come home from a full day’s work at the restaurant and still be able to make the most lavish meal. Of course I didn’t fully understand it as a kid, but I knew my superstitious parents would kill us if we dropped a chopstick, let our faces fall to even the slightest frown, or didn’t make sure our asses were in our chairs the entire dinner. The food was always special and each dish presented the deepest of meaning.
On top of the feast, we carried on some traditions that made our ancestors silently nod in humble pride. Pomelos, tangerines, and oranges would invade our house like a modern art citrus museum. Random relatives and family friends I barely knew would come by the house with the same circulating box of Danish cookies from two years ago. But the best was all the well-wishes you formally spoke aloud to your elders and vice versa. It was a special moment in and of itself, but became next level awesome as a kid (and a part of annual budget as a single adult now) when those red envelopes fell upon my chubby hands. COLD. HARD. CASH. And it was usually new bills because Chinese people read all the indirect messages in gift-giving. We kept those red envelopes under our pillows and opened them the next day, letting its luck radiate through the night.
Now that I have made a home 2000 miles away from my family, keeping such traditions is difficult in the Midwest. Even though I’m not superstitious or Buddhist like my parents are, there is a way I love honoring that care and thought that goes into this special occasion. So this year, I thought I’d go ahead and make a small feast for one. The best Chinese grocery store in town is a tiny establishment only five minutes away from me. It’s also a gas station. The staff there all speak Cantonese. The corner of the store also holds a BBQ station of roast duck, roast pig, and bbq pork. And it is one the very few places in town that I can go full Canto.
The key is to have nine dishes because the nine has a similar pronunciation as the word ‘everlasting.’ So in thinking about what I could reasonably consume as one person with leftovers, here is what a single Chinese-American woman like myself whipped up:
Go through the gallery to learn about why I made each dish:
My family always made sure we made “jai,” wish means a vegetarian dish. It traditionally included “fat choy” and various other vegetables. But since I didn’t want to buy that many ingredients, I decided to simplify the vegetarian dish and honor the Buddhist monks’ diet with fried tofu.
These crispy babies were topped by a garlic sauce and scallions.
I tried to find the longest noodles I could to represent longevity, and New York Strip was on sale. So why not make a steak noodle soup? Yum.
Long, leafy greens are important, especially in wishing your parents well. I decided to adapt it to my American identity and make Southern-style collard greens cooked down in bacon, ham, chicken broth, and onions for hours.
Dumplings are a staple. And the more you eat, the more good luck will come!
Tangerines sound like the word ‘gold,” and it is important to keep the leaves intact (looking like dolla dollar billz). If you look closely, I cheated with the piece of tape…don’t tell my parents…
“Neen go” (Cantonese) was one of my favorite sweet treats. This steamed rice cake is similar to mochi. The words are similar to the meaning of ‘tall’ or ‘high,’ letting us hope for new heights and growth.
What we traditionally do is slice the year cake, put it in an egg wash, and then pan fry it. Crispy, sweet, and a yummy gooeyness.
I thought I should have at least ONE very Wisconsin dish of poutine: fresh garlic cheese curds, steak fries, and gravy.
I love my chicken wangz. And for me, I hope this year will let me ‘fly’ to new adventures.
I really wanted to steam a fresh fish, but that is nearly impossible in Madison (not the right kind or it’s not worth the price). But fish is similar to the word ‘abundance,’ and it is important to keep the head and tail for completion. So…SWEDISH FISH.
May you all have an amazing new year and discern what family traditions to keep in any season you’re in.
Leave a Reply