#FestiveFood: Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year decorations

Gong Hey Fat Choi! This means “Happy New Year!” in Cantonese. This year for Chinese New Year, we are celebrating the year of the Monkey. The festivities usually begin on the day before the New Year and continue till the 15th of the Lunar Calendar, which is the Lantern Festival. Chinese New Year has always been my favourite festive season as it is the time when my whole extended family comes together to celebrate and enjoy delicious food, and when I receive red packets from my older relatives!

Leading up to the New Year Day, my family and I are usually busy preparing and putting up Chinese New Year decorations around the house. Every year, my mum decorates our home with different kinds of flowers, with Narcissus tazetta being a popular choice not only because of its delicate fragrance but also because it of its symbolic meanings of good luck and happiness in Chinese. One of the most exciting parts of the New Year preparations as a child was preparing the ‘Confectionery box’, which is a box set filled with sweets, candied lotus seed, melon seed and sesame cookies. It was always hard to resist nibbling on some before the celebration!

Our confectionary box filled with assorted candies & nuts!

On the first day of Chinese New Year, I usually visit my grandparents for the New Year greeting and we celebrate with a big meal prepared by my grandma. Certain foods are eaten during the festival because of their symbolic meanings, which are often based on their names or appearances, for example, fish and tangerines. The Chinese word for fish sounds like the word for ‘surplus’ and hence Chinese people believe that eating fish will bring a surplus of money and prosperity in the coming year. Similarly, tangerines are symbolic of wealth and good luck in Chinese.

My grandma is also an expert at making Chinese New Year snacks. My all-time favourite is Yau Gok (or Jau Gok) – a traditional Cantonese fried dumpling that is usually filled with crushed peanut, sesame, sugar and shredded coconut. Making Yau Gok is not only easy but also fun and below I have shared a simple recipe from MamaCheungCooks on how to make Yau Gok this Chinese New Year. Enjoy!

My grandma’s homemade Yau Gok!

Ingredients (Serves 2–3):

  • 4 cups of cooking oil

Filling:

  • 3/4 cups of peanuts
  • 3 tablespoon of sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup of sugar

Pastry:

  • 1 egg
  • 300g of plain flour
  • 6 tablespoons of oil
  • 5 tablespoons of water
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar

Method:

For the filling:

  • Pan fry the peanuts (without oil), then remove the skin and crush them.
  • In a bowl, mix the crushed peanuts together with the sugar, sesame and shredded coconut.

For the pastry:

  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, oil and water.
  • Add the sugar to dissolve in the mixture.
  • Sieve in the flour.
  • Knead the mixture to form a dough (do not knead for too long in case it turns rubbery).
  • Rest the dough in a plastic bag for 30 minutes.
  • Sprinkle some flour on a worktop and roll out the pastry into a thin ‘dumpling wrapper’ thickness.
  • Using a circular cookie cutter or the rim of a cup, cut circles out of the pastry dough.
  • Create an indentation at the centre of each circle and place a teaspoon of filling in it.
  • Fold the pastry in half to completely cover the filling and form a waveform.
  • Add the remaining 4 cups of cooking oil in a pan and heat it to approx. 150–160°C (you can test the temperature by placing a chopstick in the pan as bubbles will appear when it reaches the desired temperature).
  • Add in the pastry dumplings when the oil reaches the right temperature.
  • Turn the heat down to low when each Yau Gok starts to float to the surface.
  • Using a chopstick, stir the dumplings around until they turn golden yellow.
  • Turn up the heat to medium-high and when large bubbles start to form, carefully remove the Yau Gok and place them on a paper towel to dry.
  • Once they have cooled down, enjoy!

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