The Chinese lunar new year signifies the true beginning of the new year for me, and a second chance for making (and breaking) the new year's resolutions to meditate more, drink less, pick up the ukelele again, and resist reaching for that unnecessary second helping ... to commence straight after the Chinese new year's eve banquet of course!
Unlike the calendar new year's eve festivities usually spent with friends at a gig or bar, or (once) fine-dining with cocktails and canapes high amongst Melbourne's tallest city skyscrapers, the lunar new year's eve has always been about family. Until the recent pandemic restricting travel to see my family based on the other side of the country, it was a reunion that I rarely missed.
With the hard border extension in WA making reunion with family difficult again this year, I'm sharing this new year's eve feast with my family through pictures instead - with the help of a recent fridge and freezer forage - clearing out carefully stored portions of my favourite leftovers made throughout 2021, in order to make room for new food experiments and leftovers in 2022!
It's customary to clean the house before the lunar new year, clearing away any stale energy from the year just passed, to make way for positive vibes, good health and fortune in the new year ahead.
It's also customary to gather with family and share in a feast of dishes with symbolic meaning and auspicious sounding names to help the good luck, happiness and prosperity roll in for the new year.
Here's what I managed to cobble together from my recent fridge and freezer forage to create a lunar New Year’s Eve feast to share with my family:
Faux see fat choy ((not) dried oyster and black moss) - to welcome good things and riches
My take on "ho see fat choy" (braised dried oyster and black moss), a dish traditionally served on Chinese new year's eve due to the meaning of the ingredients.
The star of the dish, black moss (which is actually a type of seaweed) is "fat choy", which sounds like the Cantonese word for prosperity or "strike it rich". The "ho see", being the dried oyster, translates to "good things". My version incorporates braised daikon instead of oyster. (I also didn't have any black moss, so winged it with mung bean noodles marinated in tamari and charcoal powder.)
The dish I recall having with family also usually incorporated green lettuce or broccoli (fresh green vegetables or "sang choi" roughly sounding like "grow wealth" in Cantonese) together with shitake mushrooms.
Crispy golden vegetarian duck - bringing you health, happiness and prosperity
Whilst we would often share a traditional Peking duck around new year's time (representing a healthy, happy and prosperous new year), vegetarian duck made with crispy fried yuba was a favourite to share together at other times of year, either at family yum cha or the local suburban Chinese vegetarian (or "jai") restaurant.
This happy "duck" was easy to cobble together with whatever mushrooms and veggies could be foraged from the fridge and wrapping it all in rehydrated yuba and ricepaper skins to hold it all together. The long veggie parcels were shallow fried in the wok to create a golden, crispy skin reminiscent of duck.
Lemon & saltbush "chicken", with stir-fried vegetables - for togetherness & wholeness
Whilst lemon chicken was not quite a traditional family favourite (unless we were chancing the Chinese restaurant in a small country town during family roadtrips), this “chicken” was the remnant of a previous experiment with seitan and jackfruit wrapped in yuba and fried in batter with a sweet lemony sauce. (It worked a treat, as this last serving of "lemon chicken" was found carefully packed away in my freezer with a single side serve of stir-fried vegetables for an easy to reheat #freezerforage #chinesefakeaway #dinnerforone meal.)
This “chicken” stands in place for the more traditional whole steamed chicken often shared by Chinese families to bring in the new year together and is hopefully a welcome substitution to this family feast.
Mushroom & vegetable dumplings - edible ingots for luck and wealth
Dumplings are eaten to bring in good luck and wealth for the new year ahead, as this particular crescent shapeed dumpling apparently looks a lot like ancient Chinese gold and silver ingots. (And apparently the more dumplings you eat at the turn of the new year, the more money you will make in the year to come...!)
Well, it was "gold" finding this last round of dumplings at the bottom of my freezer, and they came out a treat cooked as pot stickers and served with the last #jarfull mouthfulls of homemade sichuan chilli oil and a sprinkle of saltbush furikake.
A well-rounded sweet finale of abundance and happiness
Red is a lucky colour for the new year, as it represents joy and happiness. I found this sweet round mooncake (mooncakes also symbolising togetherness) at the very bottom of my freezer. It was the last of my experimental 5 seed & 5 spice mooncakes made during the mid-Autumn festival season - and it happened to be red!
The red mooncake is accompanied by golden citrus (oranges representing abundance and happiness), mango and a passionfruit just dropped from the vine, symbolising fullness and wealth.
Good things, riches, health, happiness, luck, abundance, wealth, fullness, prosperity and joy!! Wishing you all that and more for the Year of the Tiger, as well as togetherness in the coming year xxx