Cook up a feast and bring good luck to the table as you welcome in the Chinese Year of the Ram…
A celebration to mark the turning of the Chinese calendar, this event (also known as the Spring Festival) is a day of merriment centred on family and food. Today marks the beginning of the new Chinese year, a transition which also means the handover from the Year of the Horse to the Year of the Ram.
Although us Brits may not all be gloriously awaiting some money-filled red packets from our relatives, we can still adorn our tables with a plethora of tasty treats and join the celebrations and well-wishing with our nearest and dearest.
Particularly popular in Northern China, dumplings are eaten during the Chinese New Year due to their similarity in appearance to silver ingots. Lucky dumplings can be created through a number of practices, including ensuring there’s plenty of pleats on each dumpling, arranging them in lines rather than in a circle and putting a copper coin inside one to bring its finder prosperity. Even if you’re not the lucky finder of the copper coin, legends say that you can improve your wealth by simply eating lots and lots of dumplings – the more you eat, the more money you’ll make!
Traditionally eaten at the Lantern Festival, the people of South China also munch their way through these sweet rice balls at the Spring Festival too. This is mainly due to the round shape and pronunciation of tāngyuán being similar to the word ‘group’ aka togetherness.
Other dishes which can also be found at a Spring Festival feast are a fish dish and a hot pot. These can be cooked in a number or ways, with a variety of ingredients. If you’re wanting to add some of these to your own spread, here are two recipes which we’re particularly fond of.
The fish dish
Fish dishes are an intrinsic part of New Year’s celebrations. In Chinese, the words for ‘surplus’ and ‘fish’ are extremely similar, making it a great food to welcome in a year of happiness and abundance. From mud carp signifying good fortune, to the eldest family member being seated by the fish’s head, many auspicious meanings can be found within a fish dish.
If you’re looking to make your own fish dish, why not try this delicious citrus carp:
Ingredients (serves 12)
1/2 peel of small mandarin orange
3 pounds whole carp, cleaned and scaled
2 tsp salt
475ml sesame oil
2 1/2 tbsp chopped garlic
3tbsp fresh ginger root, minced
30g green onion, chopped
3 tbsp dry sherry
1 tbsp black bean sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp white sugar
6 tbsp chicken stock
1. Soak the orange peel in warm water for 20 minutes or until it becomes soft. Drain and rinse the peel under running water, the chop and set aside.
2. Make three or four slashes on both sides of the fish and rub all over with salt. After, sprinkle both sides with cornstarch.
3. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Once hot, deep fry the fish for approximately four to six minutes on each side. When the fish has browned on both sides, remove from the pan and leave to drain on a paper towel.
4. Remove all but two tablespoons of the oil from the wok. Bring the oil back to a high heat and mix in the orange peel, garlic, ginger, and green onions. Fry for 30 seconds, stirring continuously. Add the sherry, bean sauce, soy sauce, sugar and chicken stock. Mix well, and then add the fish to the mixture.
5. Cover and let it cook for eight minutes. Serve immediately.
The hot pot
On New Year’s Eve a spectacular spread is arranged, usually at the home of the most senior family member. To symbolise the coming together of all the family members, the dinner features a communal hot pot, such as this delicious lamb one (doubly special for being the beginning of the year of the ram and because the Chinese character for ‘ram’ 羊 can also be found within the character for ‘good luck’ 祥).
Lamb Hot Pot
Ingredients (serves four)
1 tsp shio-koji
2 tbsp cooking sake
3 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
300g Daikon radish, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
40g glass noodles
1. Mix the shio-koji and 1tsp cooking sake with the lamb and leave to marinate for approximately an hour.
2. Without greasing the frying pan, cook the lamb until it’s browned.
3. Add the ketchup, soy sauce, sugar, water and remaining cooking sake to a hotpot and bring to the boil. Afterwards, add the lamb.
4. Insert the onions and radishes to hotpot and cover with a lid a leave to boil for 30 minutes. Then add the noodles and boil, stirring until thoroughly cooked.