Thursday, 6 February 2014

Chinese New Year: Food from the North and the South

After the Reunion Dinner on Chinese New Year's eve, the Chinese people continue to eat special festive food on New Year's Day. 

One of the festive food that most people in the West associate with the Chinese New Year is the Peking Dumpling.  Dumplings originated from the North of China, where the custom is to prepare the dumplings on New Year's eve, then start eating the dumplings at midnight on New Year's Day.

I also made some dumplings for New Year's Day, although we did not follow the northern tradition of eating them at midnight.  The dumpling is such a versatile food -- it can be fried, steamed, or boiled in soup.

1.  Peking Dumplings or Jiaozi (饺子)

  • 450g organic buckwheat flour
  • 450ml water
  • flour for dusting

  • 450g Chinese leaves or white cabbage
  • 450g lamb, minced
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil

  1. Sift the flour into a bowl, slowly pour in the water and mix to a firm dough.  Knead until smooth and soft.  Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 30 minutes.
  2. Blanch the cabbage leaves until soft; drain and chop finely.  Mix in the remaining filling ingredients and blend well.
  3. Lightly dust a work surface with flour, knead and roll the dough into a long sausage of about 2.5cm diameter.  Cut into 80-90 small pieces.  Flatten each piece with palm of your hand, then with a rolling pin roll out each into a pancake about 6cm in diameter.
  4. Place about 1 teaspoon of illing in the centre of each pancake and fold it into a half-moon-shaped pouch, then pinch the edges firmly so that the dumpling is tightly sealed.
  5. To steam: put the dumplings in a steamer and steam for 20 minutes.
  6. To fry: heat a little oil and shallow-fry the dumplings until golden brown on each side.
  7. To boil: bring about 2 litres water to a rolling boil and drop in about 20 dumplings, stirring gently with chopsticks to prevent them sticking together.  Cover, bring back to the boil adn then add about 150ml cold water; bring to the boil again, this time uncovered.  Repeat twice more, remove the dumplings with a strainer and serve hot.  Store any uncooked Jiaozi in the freezer.

The Chinese New Year food from the south is quite different.  The Southerners prefer to eat a type of sticky rice cake made from glutinous rice flour.  This cake is called the New Year Cake, or "nian gao" (年糕).  As with many festive foods eaten during Chinese New Year, the nian gao is important for its symbolism.  The word "nian" in the original meaning of the stickiness of the cake (粘) has the same sound as the word meaning year or the New Year's eve monster (年); the word "gao" which mean cake (糕) has the same sound as the word meaning tall or high (高).  Therefore, when used together, the word "nian gao" also signifies the wish for yearly growth -- in wealth, status, prestige, and children's development.

2.  New Year Cake, or nian gao (年糕)

  • 450g glutinous rice flour 
  • 225g honey 
  • 350ml boiling water 
  • 30g goat's butter 
  • oil for frying

  1. Stir the flour into a bowl.  Dissolve the honey in the water and slowly add to the flour, mixing to a smooth consistency.
  2. Grease a 20cm cake tin with the butter and fill with the dough.  Steam over rapidly boiling water for about 2 hours.  Remove and invert onto a plate.  When cool, refrigerate, well covered, for at least 8 hours to harden.
  3. To serve, cut the cake into diamond-shaped pieces and shallow-fry in oil on both sides until brown.  Serve hot on its own or with honey.

Since we didn't stay up to eat the dumplings at midnight on Chinese New Year's Day, we spent New Year's Day (January 31st, 2014) eating the food above, as well as catching up with the annual Spring Festival gala, which is a countdown programme shown on New Year's eve.

It is a four-and-a-half hour variety show that many Chinese people watch together after having their Reunion Dinner, that leads up to midnight on New Year's Day.  The programme is entirely in Mandarin so my readers who do not speak Mandarin may not understand most of the programme, especially the skits.

However, the celebration and festive atmophere are not bound by lanugage and can be enjoyed by all.  I have highlighted a few gems (songs and dance performances) from the programme that are not to be missed:

We also had a good laugh watching the langauge lessons from Happy Chinese.  Episodes two and three depicts the Chinese New Year, which is very relevant to us at the moment:

This post is linked up to:
  1. Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #12
  2. Hip Homeschool Hop - 2/4/14
  3. History and Geography Meme: China activities for elementary
  4. Entertaining and Educational - Chinese Paper Cutting
  5. Collage Friday: Interest-led Learning Within a Classical Framework
  6. Weekly Wrap-up: The One Where We Kept a Baby and Still Got Stuff Done
  7. The Homeschool Mother's Journal {February 8, 2014}
  8. Chinese Activities Link Up


    1. I wonder how horridly it would mess it all up if I used wheat flour instead of rice flour....

      1. Do you mean for the "nian gao"? For that, you have to use the glutinous rice flour to get the stickiness, otherwise the texture will be totally different. For the dumplings, wheat flour works just fine.

    2. There have been so many blog post craft ideas on Chinese New Year. I think anyone studying or celebrating the holiday should take a look at your videos. You have pulled together a great set that really explains the meaning behind the crafts.

      1. Thank you for your kind words, Julie. I try my best to make sure that my son understands the meaning behind the festival and the Chinese culture, so it's great to be able to come across these videos that do the job so well, and to be able to share it on this blog so that those who are interested may learn more as well. :-)


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