SPRING FESTIVAL FOOD

China and other eastern countries celebrate the new lunar year

Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, falls on Friday, the 16th of February this year. Known as Chūn Jié in Mandarin, this is one of the largest celebrations within China, as important culturally as the western celebrations of Christmas.

Spring Festival is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar and celebrations start on the eve of the lunar new year. This year’s zodiac animal is the dog, and the element associated is the earth, making the majority of 2018 the Year of the Earth Dog.

Traditionally the celebrations started on New Year’s Eve with a reunion dinner, and continued for 23 days. According to Nancy Lin, who works closely with the monks of Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS) in Montague, PEI, “We used to celebrate for minimum half month up to 1 month [in] my grandfather’s [day], but people have to go to work, so, usually one week now, but we have to celebrate Lantern Festival to end Chinese New Year which is on [Mar 2, 2018].”

The monks are still in the planning stages, but they’ll likely celebrate on PEI in much the same fashion as last year. They made dumplings, spring rolls, and other delicious dishes and shared the bounty of their hard work with their neighbours.

“For the old Chinese tradition people make dumplings, or, as we call it ‘Gold Ingot’” said Lin. She said the dumplings symbolize wishing good riches for the year ahead.

Some more modern interpretations of giving riches and sweetness for the upcoming year is the handing out of chocolate coins, candies, and sweet fruits like oranges, especially to children.
While many Island restaurants don’t create a special menu for this time of year, some have chosen to mark the occasion with some traditional foods.

At King’s BBQ in Charlottetown, owner Anna Zeng said her restaurant has been celebrating Chinese New Year for seven years. “We have a special menu we run for three or four days. The meal ensures good luck for the coming year.”

Beijing Restaurant owner Rita Zhao said her restaurant also includes special items exclusively for the New Year celebration. “It is a time for family to come together and celebrate the coming year.”
Norman Lee, who started the Noodle House back in 1992, is once again the proud restaurateur in that location and plans to have special features on his menu during the celebrations.

The owner and chef at Summer Kitchen in Charlottetown said, “Chinese like to have something that’s a good message for new year. People like pork knuckle braised with Chinese mushroom, and some peanuts. This is something they like to eat for New Year. They always love chicken, especially for the reunion dinner, or New Year’s Eve dinner. I offer a Hainanese Chicken, the whole piece, special chicken that I got sent in from Vancouver. It’s a special kind of free-range chicken, the meat is more tasty.”

When I asked Lee what he would be doing to celebrate personally, he said for his reunion dinner he would be celebrating and having dinner with his wife and son, and likely call his daughters who live in Toronto. “We won’t be able to see each other, but we’ll greet each other on the phone.”

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!