The Christmas holidays may be over and detox and diets started for the rest of the world but for Hong Kong it is the start of the best time of the year for the local Cantonese families. Chinese New Year will be here at the end of the month and the stores are taking down Christmas trees, stopping Christmas music and packing up candy canes. They are replacing them with lanterns, paper cuttings, laisee packets, traditional music and lacquered candy trays.
These decorative lacquer trays are my favorite reminder of the holiday. They are filled with a selection of candied treats including sweet lotus seeds, lotus roots, peanuts, kumquats, water chestnuts, strips of coconut and winter melon. They are in every shop, business and home. I have mine set up in the living room with small candies the kids like and will add coconut once I get down to the market. The markets are abuzz with radishes, chinese bacon (lop yok), lotus seeds and many red and gold paper signs and decorations to help families bring in the Year of the Horse!
Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the lunar calendar, so it is also called Lunar New Year, and it is considered the beginning of spring, so it is also called Spring Festival. Since it is a 15 day holiday it is the longest and most meaningful of all the holidays. There are red money packets, special foods and clothing, gifts and even superstitious things not done during the holiday. After 18 years here I am still learning!
As an expat or visitor you can not help but get in the spirit even though Chinese New Year isn’t a regular custom for you. I always make several dishes during the first or second day of the New Year. This holiday is all about family being together. New Year’s Eve is when families gather for a big meal that includes dumplings, longevity noodles, whole steamed fish, and turnip cake (law bock gow) just to name a few. They also play mahjong (I really need to learn how to play), watch the fireworks or set them off. For many families this is the only time of year they see each other so it is a special night. If one member can not make the trip back to his home, a place setting will be set in their honor.
If you aren’t celebrating Chinese New Year where you live you can always do some research and host your own dinner for your family. There is nothing better than spending time with family over a meal and learning a new tradition. This recipe is good because you can make the mixture up 2 days ahead, bring to room temperature and just assemble and bake.
And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you. Deuteronomy 26:11
I followed this recipe almost exactly with yummy results. The only thing I changed was cutting my large pieces of 3 phyllo sheets in half. Doing two 8 1/2 X 12 rectangles didn’t really make sense. Totally forgot to top with sour cream. They were fine on their own as a finger food with a glass of bubbly. Any leftovers re-crisp nicely in a pan on top of the stove. http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/crispy-mushroom-strudels