What do you immediately think of when I say Lunar New Year?
Dragon dances? Lion dances? Firecrackers? Red packets?
Lots of loud colourful festivities to chase away the bad luck and welcome in the new year.
And a big part of all this is the eating.
It all begins with New Year’s Eve, with a big reunion dinner, which in my family has traditionally been hotpot. Our families all live in Singapore so we typically have a quiet affair for just the four of us. But this year, as my mum was here in California until just before the Lunar New Year, we had an extra-early reunion hotpot dinner.
Hotpot is fantastically easy to make. Just start off with a simple broth, a suitable hot pot (mine is split in two for two different broths) and portable gas stove (or buy an electric hotpot), wash and cut up your vegetables and buy all the goodies. Oh and it will help if you have those little hotpot handtools like those netted ladles, long wooden chopsticks for picking up the ingredients with, and some soup ladles. We have about six netted ladles and two small soup ladles as well as several pairs of long chopsticks to share. Individual saucers also are recommended so that you can mix up your own dipping sauces.
Use the common long chopsticks and netted ladles set at the table to pick up food and gently place it in the soup to cook it. Use the ladles or common chopsticks to place it in your bowl or plate. Then use your own chopsticks to dip it in your own sauce and eat.
Try not to splash all over! Raise your bowl or plate to the hotpot when you’re picking up your food from the soup
Also, just common sense here, if you’re using a gas stove, crack open a window!
This time we had:
– fish tofu (a kind of fish cake premade from the Marina supermarket)
– fish balls
– thinly sliced beef from Mitsuwa supermarket (we prefer to pay a little more for some better quality meat! I think this may have been wagyu)
– fresh prawns (shells still on as it adds to the flavour of the stock)
– fresh squid (this is more for my mum as she loves squid)
– imitation crabsticks
– sausages (the husband likes those canned vienna sausages, don’t ask me why)
– napa cabbage (chopped up)
– caixin or other green leafy vegetables (chopped up)
– a variety of mushrooms including shiitake and trumpet
– a chicken stock with roughly chopped carrots and daikon that I started on the regular stove about half an hour before dinner began
– another stock made from dashi powder and miso paste
Other things that we like but didn’t include this time:
– tofu (we prefer a medium firm one so that it won’t get lost in the soup!)
– tunghoon or rice vermicelli
– corn on the cob (more for the kids)
– kabocha squash
Growing up in Singapore, my paternal grandparents would go all out with their new year eve hotpot which sometimes included:
– fresh fish slices
– sesame dipping sauce from the supermarket (this is more of a Japanese style)
– satay or peanut sauce (which we can no longer do as my older son has a nut allergy)
– chili sauce
There are packaged stock bases, sometimes with herbs, sometimes really spicy ones, available at Asian supermarkets. But I think a simple chicken or vegetable stock works fine as the ingredients add to the flavour as the meal goes on. And save the leftover soup to eat with your instant noodles the next day!
New year is also about visiting friends and family. And each family provides a variety of snacks and treats for their visitors. My mum brought these from Singapore. On the left is what we call “love letters” often they are rolled but these are folded into quarters. They’re light and buttery and prone to shattering into tiny pieces. In the middle are kueh bangkit which are made from eggs, tapioca flour, pandan flavour. They’re also very delicate and have a powdery texture. On the right are pineapple tarts.
Unfortunately US customs restrictions means we can’t bring in bak kwa which is the best thing ever. Minced pork is pressed into flat sheets marinated in some soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar and grilled for a gorgeous sweet-salty porky treat. Because it’s made for ground pork it’s more tender than jerky. I love it between white bread.
Of course it’s not just about the eating and the festivities, it’s about the people. It’s about being together, eating together, snacking on treats together.
Happy New Year!
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