Greet the Chinese New Year with festive, traditional foods
A year ago I was in China, caught up in the excitement of festive preparations for one of the most important of the Chinese national holidays, the start of the Lunar New Year.Skip to next paragraph
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This year it is Sunday, Feb. 13, introducing the Chinese year 4681, the Year of the Boar, or Pig.
For at least five days before the festival, Taipei is alive with preholiday activities.
Butchers expect a flourishing business in pork, for New Year without at least one traditional pork dish is almost unthinkable.
Red and gold paper banners float from buildings, and an atmosphere of holiday excitement is everywhere.
Trains and buses are crowded with adults and children going home for the holidays. Stores and market stalls are chock-full of merchandise and special holiday food.
The festival is not all merrymaking, for it's the time to pay all debts and to forget family feuds. Houses are cleaned until they sparkle, and everyone buys new clothes.
If at all possible, people return to their family home or the home of the oldest relative during New Year Week, so many offices and businesses are closed.
There are firecrackers and colorful parades, the famous dragon dances and the Dance of the Eight Immortal Generals in Taipei National Park.
Last year there were special displays at Taipei's famous National Museum on Lunar Day, with ancient Chinese art dating back to the Tang Dynasty.
The Chung Hua Children's Museum invited children to come learn how to make and eat Tang Tuan, or sweet rice balls.
In the street markets, women were buying branches with buds of the flowering plum and Nien Kao, or New Year cakes, which come in various colors and can be either sweet or salty.
Judy Chiu, who was brought up in Taiwan, told me of the many foods her mother would make ahead so that little except heating and serving were necessary on the New Year day.
Large pots of fish, chicken, and meat are cooked because for five days there is no cooking, and no knives, scissors, or cleavers are used.
Presents, often gifts of food, are readied and delivered, for New Year is a gift-giving time.
With her husband, Ivan, Mrs. Chiu now has a Boston restaurant, Chiu's Garden. She observes some of the traditional New Year customs, such as the gifts in red envelopes for her children and for the children of friends.
Although she doesn't cook foods ahead as her mother did, her daughters make New Year's Dumplings, traditional because they are round, smooth, and full, therefore symbolic of good fortune.
Made of glutinous rice powder and water, with a filling of sweet bean paste, the small dumplings are smooth and satiny.
They are dropped in boiling hot water over high heat and cooked until they spin and float on the top, then eaten in the sweetened soup on the 15th day of the New Year.
Fire pots and hot pots are also traditional ways of serving food when families and friends are together at this time.
As a visitor I found the city somewhat deserted on New Year's Day, so I was pleased to be invited to dinner by an interesting professor, Mrs. Lilian Chao. It was a festive occasion.
At her small, attractive, Japanese-style house, former pupils came by to see her, many now grown and some with their children, others with friends or relatives.
I had heard that children are supposed to be cheerful and say pleasant things to relatives and friends on this day, and here was a perfect example.
The doorbell kept ringing and as guests arrived there was the kind of happy chatter of people who don't see each other frequently, and there was the surprise of children who had grown taller since previous meetings.