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Celebrating Chinese New Year: Expat chefs talk about traditions, bust common myths

2018 is the Year of the Dog, and chefs from China talk about its significance, traditionally-prepared meals, and myths around cuisine from their country.

more lifestyle Updated: Feb 17, 2018 17:14 IST
Etti Bali
Etti Bali
Hindustan Times
Chinese New Year,Lunar New Year,Spring Festival
Chinese dragon image with bule sky.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Happy Chinese New Year! Unlike the Gregorian new year which is celebrated on January 1, Chinese New Year is celebrated in late January or mid-February, the dates of which vary. This year, it began on February 16. Also observed as the lunar new year and spring festival, Chinese New Year is celebrated over a period of 15 days. “The day symbolises good health, wealth and prosperity. All the families and loved ones reunite over good food,” says chef Zhang Hao, Hyatt Regency. Hao was born in Tong Zhou, Beijing and came to Delhi in 2008. “This is the Year of the Dog, and it [the animal] signifies loyalty, honesty, love, care and doing things for others without any motive,” he says.

Chef Fuhai and chef Jian Wei Lee.

With festivities, comes delicious food. Traditionally, families get together for a reunion dinner and have a feast. “Some must- have dishes prepared in a traditional household include new year cake, fried dates with sesame seeds, fried dim sums and a variety of prawn, chicken, fish and pork preparations,” says chef Fuhai of Andaz. Fuhai — born in Guangzhou — has been in Delhi since May 2017. “Rainbow combo fish made in traditional Cantonese style and white fungus broth with meringues (dessert) are two authentic Chinese dishes made in Shanghai,” adds chef Jian Wei Lee, WelcomHotel Sheraton, a native of Shanghai, who has been Delhi for the last two years. Each dish has a significance, and the spread varies according to the region. For instance, longevity noodles or Yi mein (flat Cantonese egg noodles made from wheat flour ) is said to bring happiness and longevity, and Nian gao (Chinese New Year’s cake) are believed to bring higher income. “Food choices of people from the northern region is completely different from the southern region. While in the northern region people are more inclined towards serving noodles, the ones in the south are more acquainted with eating rice with side dishes,” informs Fuhai.

The traditional Chinese New Year spread consists of dishes like fried dates with sesame seeds, Rainbow combo fish and white fungus broth with meringues. (iStock)

INDIAN CHINESE

All this food talk is tempting, but the way these dishes are prepared is very different from the kind of Chinese food Indians have taken a liking to. Chinese recipes are bland and use basic spices. “The fusion of Chinese and Indian food began in Kolkata. Besides the use of locally available vegetables and meats, it is the use of corn flour for thickening and coating, chilli, garlic and ginger and generous proportions of soya sauce that gives the Indian Chinese food the extra special spicy note,” says Lee. But with awareness about global cuisine, there has been a rise in the demand for authentic Chinese cuisine. “Restaurant menus are offering a selection of dishes from the regions of China. However, after spending two years in India, sometimes even I too crave for Tangra style chili chicken,” Lee adds.

And you thought you knew your Chinese food:

Chefs share some myths that surround Chinese cuisine

• Not all our dishes contain sugar. We have various types of sauces and ingredients that spice up or season a dish and not everything has added sugar.

• We definitely don’t eat rodents or insects like cockroaches.

• Monkey brains are not a Chinese specialty dish.

• Chinese cuisine is not all about stir-fry food.

• You do not get a fortune cookie at the end of your all your meals in China.

• Just because we are Chinese doesn’t mean that we are related to noodles.

• Chinese food does not leave feeling hungry.

• Broccoli is not Chinese.

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First Published: Feb 17, 2018 17:12 IST