Special Occasions – Chinese New Year's Eve Dinner

I have been too busy to make updates. But I am taking a much needed vacation now back home in Taiwan, celebrating Chinese New Year! This is the first time in 10 years that my parents and I spend this holiday together!

For much of the practical aspects of this holiday, you can pretty much imagine this as the Chinese Thanksgiving, a time for family gathering and big time feasting. But I think it is a little more fun because of the heavy cultural colors this holiday brings. Shopping for Chinese new year is probably more trouble than for a turkey dinner. On the eve a huge dinner is prepared for the entire family. But for the coming days of the new year, you have to stock up on snacks and drinks for guests who come to wish you a good year. For my family it has never been a big deal because we have so few relatives. But imagine that you need to extend your family tree branches to even your grandma's sister's daughter's family…you get the idea. Season-wise it is the end of a year for people to reflect on a year of hard work and enjoy the rewards. So a feast is a must, no matter how poor you are. Most chinese meals have more than enough dishes anyway. But during Chinese New Year, we usually would still be finishing some one-week old leftovers (yummy ones I must admit) later...

I would say our family is not following the traditions very closely - you tend to bend the rules when not too many people are involved. But here are certain things we definitely adhere to:
1. a fish dish in the dinner: the Chinese word for fish sounds like "over-, or extra" so by having a fish every year means having an abundance of food/wealth every year.
2. New year's cake on New Year's Day: cake sounds like "tall/high" in Chinese, so new year cake conveys yearly getting higher in positions. This year my dad and I made the new year's cake and a turnip cake ourselves.
3. 10 vegetarian delights: ok, so Chinese love the word delights/treasures. But it just means ten ingredients, really. For us, it's a simple stir fry with carrots, winter bamboo shoots, wood-ear, dried shiitake mushroom, king oyster mushroom, daylily flower, soy bean sprout, fried tofu, red chili peppers, and Chinese celery. Everything was cut into matchsticks and stir fried with some oil, salt, and pepper. It is really quite tasty. Every bite has ten different very unique flavors and textures.

We kind of cheated this year. We didn't make everything. In fact, most dishes were bought. Certain things have to be made in mass quantity to taste good, and the amount of dishes we wanted would have required cooking and preparing for at least 2 full days prior to the new year’s eve with many people's help. Our friend Regina came to eat with us but she had to go to her relative's place for dinner. So we actually had the full feast for lunch.

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