Chinese New Year 2008 begins on February 8th and many Chinese-American families begin the celebration tonight, since it is the darkest time of month on the lunar calendar. The celebration continues until the brightest night about two weeks from now. Many ceremonial meals feature noodles for long life, dumplings to represent wealth, and fish to symbolize togetherness and abundance. All are worthy values to bring to the family table.
My family went to Brooklyn Chinatown on Sunday to try a new dim sum place. I knew Chinese New Year was coming up, but I hadn't really done the math. It was a little like "accidentally" going to the grocery store on the Sunday before Thanksgiving or Christmas. It was jammed with people buying for the holiday, and negotiating our family of 5 through the streets was a bit of a challenge. Still, the hustle and bustle was exciting: red lanterns, gold coins, oranges with green stems, fresh fish flip-flopping out of their barrels. We managed to maneuver our stroller, shopping cart, and kids through the crowded streets to the restaurant.
One thing I love about Chinese restaurants is that it is totally accepted and expected that young children be at the table with their families. Nearly every big communal table of Chinese-American families had multiple generations: infants, toddlers, teenagers, grandparents. Everyone's at the table, everyone eats. It is a vivid representation of food as togetherness and culture. Dim sum is great because there are lots of little dishes to try. Although some of it might seem strange to American palates (chicken feet, anyone?), there is really something for every kid to try. Sweet sticky rice, shrimp dumplings, and egg custard tarts can tempt even picky eaters. Plus our youngest spilled tea all over the table and no one batted an eye.
In the craziness, I forgot to buy fresh noodles. But we have a 25-lb bag of Kokuho Rose New Crop rice and dumplings on hand. With that and a quick stir-fry of Chinese vegetables, we'll do a mini-Chinese New Year celebration tonight and hope for continued happiness and prosperity in the new year.
If you're in the spirit, you can try these kid's crafts for the holiday or research more recipes and traditional foods here.