Monday, February 15, 2010

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2010

Chinese New Year (CNY) is more commonly known as 'Spring Festival' in China. The festival is celebrated for 15 days but because the Reunion Dinner on the eve of CNY is the most important meal of the year and most establishments will give their workers the afternoon off to prepare for The Dinner, I think the duration of the festival is actually 16 days. The Dinner is so important that this year, an estimated 2.5 BILLION people in China will make trips home just to be in time for it. For some folks, this is the only time they get to see loved ones, and many save all year just to make this trip and bring home presents for their loved ones.

Of course the merry making for most people won't last 15 days; if only life's that much fun. By the 3rd day, people have to go back to work and on the 4th day, most businesses will be open. Skilled workers like carpenters, construction contractors and other workers who don't get annual holidays will usually have 2 weeks off. Most will celebrate upto the 7th day, which to certain Chinese sects like the Fujians (Hokkien), is 'Human Day', the day they believe man was created. From the eight day on there usually are not many celebrations but on the 15th day, businesses close and it's another round of lion dances, firecrackers, abundant food and fun and it's like the CNY celebrations all over again. The 16th day is sobering: back to the reality and drudgery of routine life until the next CNY.

We have dinners lined up every night until the 8th day of CNY, and my body is showing the effects of both gluttony and age. But it's CNY and some of the food just won't taste the same on other days so eat I must, scrumptious food like Hakka koe rou, sticky rice cake, my MIL's fried Shanghainese rice sticks and Cantonese radish cake.

This year, my in-laws had relatives from London and Shanghai and MIL foresaw a lot of cooking ahead and wanted a stress-free CNY eve so for the first time, we ate Reunion Dinner at a hotel. Needless to say, the food was ordinary and it just wasn't fun to eat Reunion Dinner out. On the first day of CNY, MIL and Weiyi, Hub's cousin from Shanghai, worked all day to cook a Shanghainese dinner with many of the ingredients hand-carried from Shanghai a few days ago. There were some non-Shanghainese dishes like koe rou and abalone kailan and we had an astonishing 10 dishes, 1 soup and 2 desserts. By the time dinner was over, all the dishes were gone except for the mixed veg and a few pieces of koe rou and kailan. Hub pointed out that since there were 14 of us, it worked out to each of us eating nearly one whole dish!

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MIL's 'red-cooked' (braising with soy sauce and spices, something the Shanghainese excel at) meat (beef shin, pork tongue and stomach), eggs and tofu are the best. The two kinds of tofu were brought in from Shanghai. They are softer than our local hard tofu and so absorb the braising liquid better.

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The only dish I need to prepare every year (MIL insists on doing her own marketing and cooking, so when every housewife was busy shopping, I was blogging) is the simple but exquisite Cantonese dish, abalone on kailan. I don't add oyster sauce to the sauce so that the natural flavor of the abalone liquid is not masked. An expensive dish that is cooked only once a year.

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Steamed 7-star grouper perfectly done.

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Fresh tako cai and spring bamboo stirred fried by Weiyi was perfect. DELICIOUS.

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MIL's drunken chicken--nearly all of this went into Wey's tummy. I prefer drunken chicken with more wine flavor and wine.

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Brought in from Shanghai, salted eel is steamed, hand-shredded and eaten with black vinegar. The eel is soft and tender and the taste is between salted fish and fresh fish. It's okay, doesn't move my earth.

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This is a soupy dish called gunxi tang (dried tofu shreds soup), a very Shanghainese dish. My MIL and Hub ate 1/3 of this between them, I think. The tofu, salted pork and dong shen (winter bamboo ) were from Shanghai. The other ingredients were dried black mushrooms and fresh pork. All cooked with a thick home-brewed chicken stock. Seriously tasty, eaten with black vinegar.

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Battered fried yellow prawns.

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On the 1st day of CNY, even non-Buddists will observe a non-meat diet. But most carnivorous families will just include a vegetarian jai dish like the one above, which has some kind of Shanghainese tofu skin that is hollow inside, like pita bread and inari.

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Hakka koe rou is pork belly and taro slices steamed for about 4 hours until the pork is soft and the seasoning permeates the pork and taro. Deep-frying the taro slices before steaming makes sure that the taro doesn't disintegrate. So clever.

yin doo xin
(last year's yin doo xin)

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Yindoo sin is a Shanghainese soup that is full of flavors from the Chinese salted pork, Chinese ham, winter bamboo, tofu 'skin' (twisted and knotted) that's cooked in a thick broth of chicken and pork.

The desserts:

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Lien zi tang yuen means lotus sticky rice balls but it also sounds like 'unity children reunited' . It is a sweet soup eaten to show harmony and peace in the family. My MIL makes the best unity soup. Each ingredient is added to boil according to their characteristic texture so that nothing is too soft or too hard or too sweet or too bland. And the amount of cooking is perfect so that the soup remains clear and not turn cloudy. The amount of brown cane sugar is just enough to lightly sweeten the soup so that you want to have bowl after bowl of it without feeling poisoned by the sweetness.

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This 8-jewel rice is from an old and well-known Shanghainese restaurant called Wang Jia Sha. We loved it! It wasn't the 8 jewels (I counted 7--honey date, dried apricot, red dates, melon seeds, walnut, green raisins, maraschino cherry) but the sticky rice and the red bean paste filling that made this absolutely delicious. The rice was fresh, very moist and soft.

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That was a big delicious meal. Have you noticed that Shanghainese are big on bamboo and tofu? Home-made Shanghainese dishes are tasty and I enjoy them. Maybe I'm ignorant, but the Shanghainese do not seem to have special CNY dishes unlike the Cantonese . Other than being delicious, Cantonese CNY dishes also have to be made with good-sounding and expensive, quality ingredients eaten only on such special occasions.

Gong xi fa cai everyone!

8 comments:

Anncoo said...

恭喜发财! I love all the food here especially the abalone, 醉鸡 and 八宝饭.

Hong Ming said...

Hunger!!!!!!!!!!! :(

Big Boys Oven said...

OMG! I am salivating now at this point! So so awesome, amazing! I am in hunger now at 12.46am! lol! nice post!

zurin said...

What a feast Terri !!as always where u are!! happy new year again!!

Johnathan Oh said...

Geez Terri, how did you guys finish all those??

terri@adailyobsession said...

anncoo: :D:D

ming: serves u right for leaving so soon

bbo: :D:D

zurin: and happy new year to u too :))

johnathan:we were amazed too!

NEE said...

This is really a feast. amazing! your MIL sounds really scary hehehe...Happy Chinese New Year

Yan said...

Can you post the recipe for the abalone and the stem taro and pork belly.

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