So you think you know Chinese New Year… (Part 1)
Chinese New Year of the Rooster, see how Chinatown veterans celebrate
Red lanterns, dragon dances and everything splashed in red. This is what we typically imagine when we think of Chinese New Year. But what does it really mean to those who celebrate it across the world? We invited the veterans of Chinatown to tell us what the New Year means to them and their most cherished memories of the festival.
Don’t forget to try their recommendations for your own authentic celebrations!
CNY is the most important day of the year. Visiting family members, relatives and friends is what people all do in my hometown to celebrate CNY. And there is a special order to it – CNY Eve and the first day of CNY should be at your own home with parents and children, second day people pay visit to their parents-in-law, third and fourth day of CNY is the time to visit relatives, if they live in the same city, and from fifth day onwards, by which day you should have visited all your kin, you can meet some friends and travel farther afield.
Eating and drinking is the theme of CNY, just like Christmas. The hero though is jiaozi (crescent-shaped dumpling). In the past, every family would gather together and hand-make jiaozi on CNY Eve. We eat a lot of jiaozi during CNY. First we all eat jiaozi at the grand meal on CNY Eve. Then on CNY Day, we must eat jiaozi again in the morning, around 7am or 8am, as the first meal of the new year. And on the fifth day, we must have jiaozi again – a custom long cherished by my fellow countrymen known as “Breaking the Fifth”. And five days later, on the tenth day of CNY, we have jiaozi yet again. And then comes the last day of CNY celebration, the fifteenth day. We don’t have jiaozi on this day, but yuanxiao instead (or tangyuan, rice ball dumpling).
My favourite among all CNY dishes is crispy stuffed lotus root with pork. My family always make this during CNY. Dip the lotus chips in starch and fry them with burning oil. I can never forget that taste.
Kenny Yeung of Orient London, from London, UK, of Hong Kong origin
I was born and raised in London but I grew up in a very traditional family. For us, CNY usually starts two to three days before CNY Eve. First thing is cleaning the house – every corner, every bit of dust. And we decorate our house, putting red things all over the place.
My relatives are now scattered across the world, many in different parts of Europe. But every CNY we will gather together, usually at different relatives’ houses. Now I work in catering industry and it’s getting more and more difficult for me to actually leave the restaurant in Chinatown. But most of the time my family will come to the restaurant on CNY Eve and enjoy a big feast with me while I work.
Every year we will have steamed rice cake, no exception. Also Tangyuan.
Ellen Chew of Rasa Sayang, from Singapore
Chinese New Year is the most important time for me, personally, and I believe for the majority of Chinese throughout the world. It’s a period when I get to bond with my family and extended families. It’s also a time for me to revisit cultural traditions and customs that keep me closer to my roots.
As a Singaporean, the most important dish of CNY to me is Yu Sheng. It’s as symbolic to me as, perhaps, roast beef and turkey to anyone that celebrates Christmas. Because it’s a symbol of abundance, you’d get a lot of dishes that include fish too. Another seafood that is common is prawns as it symbolises laughter and happiness. My personal favourite is screamingly fresh Red Grouper steamed till tender and served with a gravy mix of superior soy sauce, sesame oil, Shaoxing wine and rock sugar, and topped with deep fried scallions and julienne ginger.
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