Published: Feb 23, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Feb 19, 2013 05:05 PM
This year I am celebrating my first authentic Chinese New Year. My good friend Chela Tu’s family is visiting from China and showing us how to honor 2013 with lots of traditional food and togetherness.
Saturday, Feb. 9, was New Year’s Eve. Chinese New Year follows the lunar calendar, so it starts with a new moon and lasts for 15 days until a full moon.
I work weekends on the Chirba Chirba Dumpling Truck, and Chela works too as a co-owner. Saturday afternoon as we were serving dumplings, her family arrived to eat. The line to order food from the truck was long, so they hopped aboard to help us.
Chela’s dad Husen Tu sent orders out the window with gusto while his wife Wang Rong Rong (Rose) stocked steamer baskets full of dumplings. Cousin Zhang Ling took pictures inside the truck as her husband Zhang Lei and Chela’s brother Jensen Tu snapped photos outside.
Once our line died down, the family got the dumplings they’d been waiting for. Most everyone in China eats dumplings on New Year’s Eve. They are considered lucky because they look like old Chinese money.
Saturday evening, Chela and I were greeted at her house by the entire family and a table full of delicious food.
It was time to eat the traditional whole fish to represent a whole year of prosperity along with a steaming pot of six ingredients because six is a number that means everything should go smoothly in the upcoming year.
We had whole red snapper and a hot pot filled with shrimp, scallops, tofu, mushroom, vermicelli and cabbage. There was also beef because the family loves American beef and rice because who doesn’t eat rice at a Chinese meal? We washed it down with glasses of hóng jiǔ (red wine).
Conversations lingered in Mandarin and English about soccer, business in China and how to cook Chinese food. I practiced saying some food names in Mandarin.
Sunday, Feb. 10, was New Years Day. I made a sign for the truck that said Xîn Nián Kuài Lè – “Happy New Year!” I wore red and gold because I’d heard they were lucky, and I had even put on new work shoes because I’d heard wearing something new was a good idea.
That evening we had true hot pot with many bowls of ingredients to dip. Beef, cod, potato, mushroom and lettuce, little fish balls and big slices of turnip surrounded a sizzling pot of Szechuan broth.
“We don’t do this every day, or else we would be very fat,” said Rose. She served us eight treasure sticky rice, a traditional sweet New Years food because eight is a lucky number.
Rose explained a bit more about New Year traditions, translated by Chela. “Wearing red is lucky. If it’s your year, you must even wear red undergarments. For example, this year is the year of the snake, so if you were born in this year, you should be aware of tradition. Your year only comes every 12 years.”
She continued, “Major milestones happen in twelves, such as becoming a teenager and coming of age, but bad things can happen too. Superstitious people will buy socks with a little picture of a person on the sole when it’s their year. When they step it’s like stepping on all the bad that could happen to them.”
The next several days of New Year are meant for visiting family and friends. Chela will go with her family to the West Coast to see her sister.
Personally, I intend to have people over to see my new apartment. I’ll try to obey the rules of Chinese New Year, so I can say I followed tradition this year. These include not cleaning my house for the first three days and not cutting my hair for 30 days. For certain I’ll also be serving and eating a lot of dumplings! Follow Chirba Chirba on twitter @chirbachirba or visit http://chirbachirba.com.
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