Let’s Talk Food: This Saturday is Chinese New Year

This Saturday is Lunar New Year, the beginning of the new year on the traditional Chinese calendar. Food is very symbolic, with each dish having some hope for either longevity, good luck, or fortune.

According to Simone Tong, chef and owner of Little Tong Noodle Shop in New York, Chinese come together at Chinese New Year to hope for a better year. They hope to get rid of all the bad, unfortunate things and bring good fortune into the new year.

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On New Year’s Eve, they deep clean with a bath or shower and do not bath or shower on New Year Day, not wishing to wash any good luck and fortune for the new year.

Traditional Chinese meet at the grandparents’ house, filled with aunties, uncles, and cousins. The table may have over 20 dishes, with as many people to enjoy the food together.

Chef Tong lifts this salad really high with chopsticks with about 20 people around a round table. It symbolizes lifting the spirit and “The higher you raise your chopsticks to mix the salad, the better luck you’ll get for the coming year. We eat this throughout the 15-day celebrations, and especially on the seventh day which is known as Ren Ri, commonly known as everyone’s birthday.” It’s a Cantonese-style raw fish salad with shredded vegetables and served with assorted toppings, plum sauce and slices of raw fish, either salmon sashimi, ahi or even mahimahi. The word for raw fish is “yusheng,” and the character resembles “abundance.” so eating raw fish symbolizes abundance, prosperity, good fortune and vigor.

Prosperity Salad or Yusheng

1/4 cup plum sauce

2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Kosher salt

Vegetable oil for frying, about 4 cups

10 squares wonton wrappers, cut into 1/2 inch thick strips ( or packaged wonton strips so you don’t need to fry them and use 4 cups of oil!)

4 ounces sashimi-grade fresh fish, thinly sliced

2 medium cucumbers, cut into matchsticks

2 Asian pears, thinly sliced

2 grapefruit or 1 pomelo, peeled and segments

1 large carrot, peeled, cut into matchsticks

1 medium daikon, peeled, cut into matchsticks

1 bell pepper (any color), cut into matchsticks

3 tablespoons pickled ginger

Whisk plum sauce, soy sauce, sesame seeds, five-spice powder, sesame oil and cinnamon in a medium bowl, season sauce with salt and set aside.

Pour oil into a large skillet to come up halfway up the sides. Heat to medium-high and add one wonton strip. Once wonton begins to sizzle around the edges and starts to shrivel, the oil is hot enough to fry the remaining strips. Use slotted spoon to transfer cooked wonton to paper towels to drain.

Place sashimi in the center of a large platter, arrange cucumbers, pears, grapefruit, carrot, daikon, bell pepper, ginger, and fried wonton stirps around sashimi. Drizzle reserved sauce over and toss together with your guests before serving.

• • •

The bright red color of this next dish symbolizes good luck. It works well as a topping for noodles, lettuce, or Chinese buns.

Red-Braised Pork Belly — Hong Shao Rou

2-1/2 pounds skin-on boneless pork belly cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup sugar

4 green onions, white and green arts coarsely chopped, dark green parts finely sliced

1 2-inch ginger, peeled, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 star anise pod

1/5 cup light soy sauce

1/4 cup Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine)

Cooked short grain rice

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pork and cook, skimming off foam from surface, 5 minutes, (this blanching step get rid of any impurities on the pork, making it more tender; don’t skip this step). Transfer pork to paper towels to drain.

Wipe out pot. Heat 3 tablespoons water in pot over medium-high. Add sugar, stir to dissolve, and cook, stirring constantly, until syrup thickens and turns a pale amber color, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and return pork to pot, swirling so all sides are covered in caramel. Add whites and pale green parts of green onion, ginger, garlic and star anise. Cook, tossing, until fragrant, about one minute. Add soy sauce and wine and cook, stirring, until slightly reduced, about one minute.

Pour 3 cups water (should be barely cover pork, add more if needed). Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until pork is tender, about one hour.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer pork to a plate; remove pot from heat. Let sauce cooking liquid cool slightly so rendered fat can rise to the surface. Using a ladle, skim off as much fat as possible.

Return pot to medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened and glossy, 15 minutes. Return pork to pot and toss to gently reheat and coat with sauce.

Transfer pork to a platter. Pour sauce over. Top with dark green onion parts and serve with rice.

• • •

If you want to serve this with Chinese mantou buns instead, here is my recipe for them:

Chinese Doilies

Makes 20

1 9-ounce potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup water

4 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon shortening

3-1/2 – 4 cups flour or dung min fun flour

2 tablespoons active dry yeast

Simmer cubed potato in 1 cup water until very soft. Mash and cool to lukewarm (115 degrees).

Add sugar, salt, shortening, and yeast. Mix slightly, add flour, little at a time and knead until dough no longer sticks to hands. Divide dough into 1 inch balls. Roll out very thinly into 3 inch circles, rotate dough to roll out into circles. Brush tops with oil, and fold in half. Place in steamer lined with parchment paper and steam for 20 minutes.

Foodie Bites

If you want jai for the New Year, Sum Leung at KTA Puainako will have it available on Friday, and on Wednesday gao will be available.

Hawaii Community College’s Culinary Arts Program’s Cafeteria is open this week. Call 934-2559 for specials of the day and hours.

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Gung Hay Fat Choy! Xinnian Kuaile!

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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