One of the best ways to learn about another culture is to eat their food! Lots of little insights are revealed when we eat what our neighbors eat. Even more so if we try to learn to cook a few dishes ourselves. What I found helps with getting started with cooking a brand new cuisine is to:
1 - Pick out a few inticing dishes to try.
In this case we are putting together a Chinese New Year dinner menu.
2 - Figure out the staple ingredients.
You should have these on hand so that when the inspiration strikes you're ready - Next week we will give you a full grocery list just in time to cook our Chinese New Year dinner.
3 - Choose a motivating factor.
Learning something new requires effort and energy. It's also something that we tend to push aside because we're busy, don't feel like it that day, think it's too hard, or the WORST one... we'll do it "later." You know that "later" never comes!! So, we really need to give ourselves a bit of a deadline and then a reward for getting it done. So my self imposed deadline is the start of the Chinese New Year (January 31st) and my reward will be introducing my family to a beautiful new tradition! (And watching my darling 3 year old Mo, eat with chopsticks, while my other darling, red bearded Vito, tries but can't.)
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So without further ado we're so excited to introduce the lovely and neighborly Amy from sunny California. She is going to hold our hand and help us get started with Chinese cooking! Amy blogs delicious and beautiful Chinese recipes (and not only) over at uTry.it and well - we accept the challenge Amy! We want to TRY IT!
Let's get to know Amy a bit better...
Who taught you to cook?
My parents love to cook. I'm their sous chef since I was a little girl (don't even remember how young! And no, my parents are just home cooks, not professional chefs.) So, I guess the passion for cooking runs in the family. But I didn't really start cooking on my own until I moved out to college. I explored so much in my dorm's kitchen. ;) I started to "play with" my food (or you can call that recipe development), when my parents are not there to tell me "no"! hahahaha....
Do you still have family where you're from? How often do you visit?
I still have relatives living in Hong Kong (where I was born and raised), mostly from my Father's side of the family. I go back every few years to visit.
How important is it that your kids eat Chinese food?
(I asked Amy this because since the birth of my first son, Mo, I am much more into re-discovering and making Russian food so that he is familiar with the same foods I grew up eating, sort of a cultural injection. I wonder if, especially for those of us who do not live in the place we were born, having kids makes us yearn for our roots.)
Hmm...good question. I didn't really think of it much as I cook and eat Chinese food all the time. It was just a natural thing to do. My kids had been eating and tasting Chinese food since they were in my tummy, so they better like it too when they're out! Just kidding! :-P I encourage my kids to try different types of food, Chinese or not. If they don't like it, it's okay. But at least, give everything a try at least once.
What is your favorite Chinese dish?
Mapo Totu, that's also my kids' favorite.
How does your family celebrate CNY? What is one family tradition follow with your family?
It is the tradition that on the Eve of Chinese New Year, supper is a feast with immediate family. On the New Year morning, children will greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year (Gong Hay Fat Choi), and receive money in red envelopes. Another tradition on the Chinese New Year is that the families are to visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended family, usually their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents and so forth. Along with our visits, we always bring some delicious treats.
Thank you Amy for being a good global neighbor
and guiding us how to get started with Chinese cooking!
Chinese New Year Menu
Chinese New Year wishes are all about having a long, happy and sweet life full of luck and abundance. It's perfectly OK to wish for a raise, more money and success! I can get behind all that! It's also about honoring the elders in your family and strengthening family bonds. The foods you eat are in turn very symbolic of these concepts. (For full recipes, cooking instructions and even a video just click through to Amy's blog.)
Chinese Scallion (Green Onion) Pancakes With Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce
More Family Togetherness. These yummy pancakes are perfect to start the dinner with by having everyone share these and collide with each other trying to dunk at the same time. Get that family bonding moving along!
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Health and abundance is represented by eating vegetables and also to balance out many meat and fish dishes that are usually present at a Chinese New Year banquet.
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Of course there must be these delightful crescent shaped dumplings. Amy tells us they resemble the shape of a traditional gold nugget, in Chinese called (元寶). The dumplings represent wealth for the family.
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A new year wish to be more successful, to be able to reach your goals and pretty much improve or 'rise up' is symbolized by eating rice cake. Amy says that Rice Cake in Chinese (年糕) sounds exactly like "grow (taller) every year", and so we should eat this cake and rise higher!
Well, I think this is more than enough for us to get started with. And while we're at it, why not pick out a few essential accessories, perhaps a garland of Chinese Palace Lantern Lights and a few Year of the Horse Envelopes for lucky money and if you have young kids here is an adorable book you can read together about Hannah the horse!
A few parting "instructions". If you've never attempted to make Chinese food don't stress out and feel like you have to acquire a whole new set of utensils, new kitchen equipment and restock your pantry full with exotic ingredients, a lot of the time starting something new is much, MUCH easier then you've first imagined and then you want to kick yourself in the kneecap for not trying it earlier! Now go browse the recipes, decide on how you'd like to celebrate, and next week we'll be back to give you a shopping list to take to the store with you so you'll have NO EXCUSES!
(Photo credit: All photos except otherwise marked via Amy)
• • • LESSONS LEARNED • • •
If you want to learn to ride you must get on the horse!
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