Wednesday, February 05, 2014

CNY Food Diary: Preparing for the New Year

The Year of the Horse is finally here; and we have once again entered a brand new year with the arrival of the Lunar Spring at the end of the month of January.
I was away since the middle of January due to travel, and I did not have much time/access to my blogs; hence the pause in my posting until now, but as promised, I have a lot to share since then and I will be sharing on different themed posts in all my blogs though with the same festivity cheer.

The preparation for the Lunar New Year was as usual; though I am not sure if many noticed the rather dampened atmosphere (compared to the other years) in the shopping malls this year. Perhaps it was due to the holidays season all crowded within the same period; with less than a month apart? (Think Christmas followed by New Year and back to school, then Chinese New Year).
Breadwinners of the family will definitely be sweating through the constant outflow of the cash earned; especially those with children to raise, and many were also conservative in their spending with the notion of saving for the rainy days in mind due to the current economic situation.

Anyway, that still did not put out the festive mood as many still continue to gear up to welcome the brand new year, though in moderation; with the faith that there is always new hope and beginnings to start all over with again. It is not entirely untrue; as it is always important to live with faith and hope in our minds and to keep us going in a positive direction.

Back to the Lunar New Year post today; I am starting a mini food diary for the festive season of Chinese New Year (CNY) and perhaps share a little on the usual family traditions, food, the actual Chinese practices/traditions/culture/history across my blogs and of course, on my personal thoughts on the festive celebration.

It really did seemed like a short period to prepare for the Lunar New Year this year; with the date being at the end of the first month of the Julian calendar and it seemed that the CNY just arrived in a blink of an eye.
I almost even forgot that the Lunar New Year was approaching and only started preparing for the gifts and everything a week before the season arrives.
What preparations you may ask?

For instance, preparations for the reunion dinner (usually taken care of fully by my mother-in-law :-), the gifts for our parents and loved ones in form of food (cookies, oranges, red packets, etc), the new outfits, spring cleaning the house and our rooms, decorations, setting up of the curtains/bedsheets, etc. For the Taoist devotees, there are even more to prepare for as they have to set aside the food offerings for the deities and their ancestors and the rituals begin from the 24th day of the last month in the last Lunar calendar where they perform the act of the 'sending of the Gods to Heaven'.
On the night before the eve, there is also a feast to remember their deceased ancestors where they will prepare a feast and set up the tables with the utensils, and then light up the joss sticks along with prayers to invite their deceased loved ones to join in the festive feast. It is a simple yet meaningful practice to show the respects and love for the deceased family members as they are remembered even on major festivities such as the Lunar New Year.

Then comes the most important part of welcoming the Lunar New Year; the eve of the New Year where the family members (from near and far) all return home to gather for the Reunion Dinner.

The Reunion Dinner is an important event in the celebration of the Lunar New Year as it marks the start of the festive celebration. As with all festivals, the eve celebrates the reunion of all family members as they gather together as a family once again to enjoy in a feast, and also in sharing the good times with one another. As there are many who may not be staying with their parents due to work, marriage or studies and other personal reasons, this is one of the times when they make it a point to travel back to their childhood homes or their nest where they grew up or where their parents are to reunite with their loved ones and the nest.
The reunion dinner unites the family as a whole as they join each other in sharing the good times and to celebrate the beginning of happiness and hope during this time; in ushering a brand new year.
With the notion of reunion in mind, there is no doubt that the meal prepared is definitely of significance.

Much thought were put into the dishes or in the entire feast itself, and though there are many variations practised by different families, the objective is still one; to gather as a family and that everything is good.
The traditional dinner usually comprises of many lavish and delicious dishes; where our ancestors focus on all the rare dishes they get to enjoy and these usually include meat and fish. In all, the Reunion dinner is prepared in a way that it is fit for a king (almost!)

I remember as a child, my grandma used to prepare a lot of dishes and it was truly a lavish feast with fish, prawns, chicken, pork, soup and then there were wine to pass around (for the adults of course).
There are still many who have this, but there is also another tradition which was the steamboat, or hot pot, as known to many where a soup will be cooked with herbs or chicken or any ingredients for an entire day and then raw ingredients such as fish, meat, vegetables and processed food such as meat balls, fishballs, abalone, mushrooms, etc are to be placed into the boiling soup when everyone sits at the table, while waiting for the food to cook in the pot.
During this time, the family members would then share a lively banter with each other and when the food is cooked, everyone just dives into the pot to get what they want from the many types of food in the pot. Of course, for hygiene reasons, there are also separate ladles, spoons and chopsticks to scoop the food from the pot. The steamboat or hot pot tradition started from the cold winter countries where it was more cosy to have food from the hot boiling soup to heat oneself up from the cold. Furthermore, the boiling of the food became a symbol of prosperity and incoming good luck as the food cooks in the hot temperature of the soup.

You might have heard of many who are into the hot pot tradition; particularly in Malaysia as it was a simpler yet enjoyable feast as it provides more variety for all ages. (even the kids love the variety of fishballs/meatballs, seafood and meat) Therefore it is no wonder it is one of the most common choice for the Reunion dinner and there are even those who just cannot get enough of the hot pot that they could go along with the hot pot meal for days during the New Year (most dine in as most of the Chinese shops would be closed in conjunction with the celebration, though it is becoming rare these days).

What was your Reunion Dinner like?
Was it a feast of many dishes, or was it the hot pot? Or perhaps you have other more unique meals to share?

Coming up next, my Reunion Dinner....

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