Chinese New Year: Food Favourites!

Hi, I’m Katherine- a very English name that for 22 years no one was able to pronounce until I came to Durham! My mum is from Taiwan, my dad is from Hong Kong and I was born in Hong Kong when it was still under British rule, I guess that makes me Taiwanese-Anglo-Hong Kongese??

I did my BA in Taiwan, which is where I met my fiancé Bruce. We are both very into food and we tended to eat out a lot, which, although we both managed to gain quite a bit of weight, is one of my favourite things about Taiwan. Bruce’s mother is also a great home cook, as long you can put up with the classic mother in law domination!

We like food…

Bruce proposed to me in 2014 so I was engaged by the time I came to Durham. I wish I could stay in England forever even though, for me, the food isn’t as good as it is in Taiwan. I really enjoy the peace and quiet of Durham.

Having studied abroad for 6 years, I haven’t really had the chance to celebrate Chinese New Year in Taiwan or Hong Kong for a while. Chinese New year in China, Taiwan or Hong-Kong is like the 25th December in the UK– the only time London Oxford Street is deserted! Most people stay at home and gather with their families and also visit other families to give blessings by saying some greetings and giving ‘red packets’. Hong Kongese people eat food that is synonymous with the greetings, for example: dried oyster with seaweed means earning much in the coming year in Cantonese. In Taiwan, we eat sweet sticky rice, which is quite similar to mochi (which you’ll find out more about later in this article!). Some Taiwanese will wrap dumplings and make noodles for Chinese New Year. In my experience, chicken and fish are “must-have” dishes to the Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong-Kongese people.

Here are a few of my Chinese/Taiwanese/Hong-Kongese food highlights that you could even try making at home as an authentic Chinese New Year celebration!

Mochi- a typical Chinese New Year treat

Mochi with sesame and peanut sprinkles & deep-frying mochi…

What impressed me most about Taiwan, as a Hong-Kong girl, were the desserts. I have always had to have dessert after my meals and on my first date with my fiancé Bruce we went to get mochi at the night market. I usually eat a strict diet, which doesn’t involve eating at night but I can make some exceptions! Compared to Taiwan, Durham is very quiet at night- everything seems to close at about 5pm! In Taiwan the night markets open around this time and they are full of delicious food and drink.

Mochi is a traditional Chinese and Taiwanese dessert and has two main flavours: sesame and peanut. It is made with glutinous rice powder and then deep-fried in oil. In Hong Kong they are steamed instead but I much prefer the fried version, as it is delicious and crispy on the outside and chewy and gooey on the inside.

Learn how to make your own mochi for Chinese New Year at Serious Eats.

Bing

Mango bing & typical bing toppings on display…

Another typical Chinese street-food dessert that we don’t have in Hong Kong but that can be found in Taiwan is ‘bing’ (short for baobing). ‘Bing’ means ‘ice’ in Mandarin and it can either be made with plain shaved ice or it can be made with different fruit-flavoured ice of the customer’s choice. If you go for the plain ice variety, the customer can choose what toppings they want but the selection is a little different than what you’d find in the UK. Common toppings include: yam, green and red beans, taro, pineapple and small glutinous rice balls (no chocolate or marshmallows!). Black sugar syrup or condensed milk can then be poured on top. If you get pre-flavoured bing then your toppings will be ice cream and the fruit that matches the flavour of bing you have chosen.

To find out more about making your own baobing click here.

Lu Wei
Lu wei on display in market stalls and a typical lu wei dish…

“Lu wei” is a Mandarin phrase which means: food cooked by soaking it in a special sauce for a period of time. It would be a great dish to serve up as a New Year treat! Normally it is a take-away snack and it cannot be found in Hong Kong, so I guess that’s why I am willing to give up my more “Westernised” movie snacks for Bruce’s favourite lu wei sometimes! Lu wei can be “wet” or “dry” but if you order it “wet” you have to wait for the shop owner to recook it by soaking the food you’ve chosen in the sauce. You get the sauce or soup in the takeaway plastic bag with the food. “Dry” means that the food is already cooked and does not need recooking in the sauce. I personally like wet lu wei because I like hot food. Bruce prefers the dry ones because he says it allows him to taste the texture and flavour of every different element, while the wet ones all taste the same.

With lu wei, you can choose whatever you want to put in it. The foods are displayed just like the pictures shown above. What’s different is that Taiwanese people enjoy eating duck and pig offal (e.g. intestines) more than people from Hong Kong. I guess this probably scares a lot of English people away! There are, however, some slightly less ‘scary’ options such as mushroom, tofu, broccoli, cabbage etc. You can request some spicy sauce to take away and also ask for some Chinese pickled vegetables to be added (It’s free!).

If you want to try making your own lu wei, try this guide.

Xian Su Ji

Women cooking up xian su ji at a market stall…

In Hong Kong, there’s a myth that eating fried food makes you ‘hot’- but not in a good way! People say it gives you a sore throat, blisters and acne so when I go to Taiwan I make the most of the lack of stigma. I think I actually like it more just because I’m not allowed it when I’m in Hong Kong! In Taiwanese fried food is called ‘xian su ji’. This is a Mandarin term meaning ‘fried chicken’ but (confusingly) xian su ji is not necessarily made with chicken.

The food options are pretty similar to lu wei and it is also a night market snack. Bruce always emphasises that, unlike KFC, different xian su ji shops marinate and fry their food in different ways and with different timings so some are better than others. The ideal consistency is crunchy and crispy on the outside but soft and juicy on the inside. I’m not so picky!

Want to try this at home? Try this recipe.

This year is actually the first time I have celebrated Chinese New Year in a western country. My friends and I had originally planned to make dumplings but then we decided that finding and preparing all the ingredients would be a bit too much trouble, so we’ve decided to go to Newcastle the next day for Chinese hot pot instead! I hope this inspires you to try some of these delicious dishes and celebrate Chinese New Year in style!

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