There is no denying that Chinese cuisine is one of the most delicious out there. If you are looking for an excuse to enjoy it or throw a fun party, Chinese New Year is not too far away. It is a great way to keep the festivities going after the Christmas period has ended!
With that being said, let’s take a closer look at Chinese New Year food, as well as discussing one of the most deliciously regional types of food and how to cook it…
Chinese New Year – The Most Common Foods To Serve
When it comes to celebrations it does not get much bigger and better than Chinese New Year. This is also known as the Lunar New Year and it is undoubtedly one of the most pivotal Chinese celebrations.
You don’t only have Chinese New Year, but other Asian New Year celebrations are taking place at the same time in the likes of Thailand, Japan, India, Korea and more. This is because all of these Asian cultures have a traditional calendar that is centred on lunar and solar movements.
Food plays an important role during the Chinese New Year celebrations. This is because the Lunar New Year Table is filled with symbolic foods that are believed to bring fortune and good luck to the households that consume them.
Fish is an important food during this period. A whole fish represents abundance and togetherness, with fish believed to bring good fortune and ensure a long life. On the other hand, red meat is not consumed during the celebrations. This is ideal for anyone who is trying to lose weight during this time of year too, which is often the case in January. Click here if you need some advice and assistance with that.
Most Common New Year Food
• Dumplings – Most dumplings consist of chopped vegetables and minced meat that’s wrapped in thin dough skin. Dumplings have a history that dates back in excess of 1,800 years. Legend has it that during the New Year celebrations the more dumplings you eat, the greater amount of money you will make throughout the year ahead.
• Fish – We have already touched upon the symbolisation of fish and thus why it is enjoyed during the New Year period. The fish is cooked by one of the following three methods, braising, steaming or boiling. Dishes range from boiled fish with spicy broth to steamed weever. It is worth pointing out that another reason why fish is consumed is because it sounds like surplus in Chinese language. Chinese people believe it is always good to have surplus at the end of the year. They think that they can make more in the coming year because they have managed to save something at the end of this one.
• Spring Rolls – Spring rolls are essentially a filling – whether it be meat or vegetables – that has been wrapped in thin dough wrappers to create a cylindrical shaped roll. They are a Cantonese dim sum dish that is enjoyed all over the world.
• Niangao – Niangao is basically a glutinous rice cake. The main ingredients are sticky rice, lotus leaves, Chinese dates, chestnuts and sugar. Not only does niangao taste delicious, but this dish holds an important meaning as well. When you say the word in Chinese it sounds like you mean getting higher every year. People thus believe that your life will become prosperous the higher you are.
Sichuan cuisine is well-known because of its bold flavours, especially the spiciness of the food. If you like a bit of heat, it is a good choice for Chinese New Year. Sichuan pepper is one of the most famous and widely used ingredients, whilst chilli peppers and garlic are used regularly in almost all Sichuan dishes. If you like things hot and spicy you will certainly love authentic Sichuan cuisine. But, as you will soon discover, there is a lot more to this type of cooking than a bit of spice…
As you have probably already gathered by the name, Sichuan cuisine originates from the Sichuan Province in China. Chengdu, which is actually the provincial capital of Sichuan, is considered one of the best places in China for food. It has a great reputation for spicy dishes and fiery hot pot. If you enjoy street snacks you will be in paradise, as there are more than 100 varieties to choose from in Chengdu. This includes everything from poached wontons to savoury jelly noodles.
Whilst ‘spice’ may be the first word that comes to mind when you think of Sichuan cooking, if you go to an authentic Sichuan restaurant you will soon discover that there is a lot more to this type of food. Of course this is the standout factor. However, Sichuan cuisine is actually composed of seven basic flavours, which are as follows – salty, sweet, sour, hot, pungent, bitter and aromatic.
The best restaurant will tell you that Sichuan cooking is more than peppercorns and intense heat. It’s actually a very complex style of cuisine. It combines unique ingredients and cooking techniques whilst evoking foreign cultural influences. This is what truly makes it so special, as it results in dishes that have a complexity of flavours and incredible depth.
The use of different flavours really is worth elaborating on. As mentioned, chillies are indeed a frequent ingredient found in this cuisine. From dry chillies, to fresh chillies, to pickled chillies… they are all used. But, they do not define this style of cooking. What defines Sichuan cooking is the different flavours that are then combined with the chillies to create a unique style and taste experience. It’s certainly not a case of all fire and no substance.
Many locals will also tell you that the Sichuan style of cooking is a result of the humid and damp climate experienced in Sichuan. The locals use this climate to explain their taste for chilli – it’s a popular folk tale.
Whilst chili lovers will certainly love this type of food, the main feature of Sichuan cooking is actually its compound taste, which means that you can always taste more than one flavour in a single dish. In fact, Sichuan cuisine is characterised by the use of seven basic flavours. Each chef will combine the various spices and change their proportions accordingly, which allows them to create their own unique dish. The seven basic flavours are as: sweet, sour, salty, hot, pungent, aromatic, bitter.
You will often find that all seven flavours are combined into the one dish, which leads to a complexity of flavour and an incredible depth. This is rarely found in other types of cuisine. It also gives you the opportunity to easily tell a good Sichuan restaurant from a bad one. When you taste the dish you have ordered, ask yourself, does it only hit one note at a time? If so, you’re not experiencing genuine Sichuan food, as a good dish created at an authentic restaurant hits all sense receptors in the mouth at once.
Not only can the flavours of this cuisine be separated, but so can the food itself, which falls into one of the following five categories: food snacks, household-style food, popularised food, ordinary banquet, sumptuous banquet.
Now you know a little bit more about the sheer diversity found within this cuisine. However, spice is an important characteristic present within a lot of the food. The spicy-hot Sichuan flavour is praised for its uniqueness and lingering taste. It is achieved by using a mixture of ingredients, such as crushed dried chilli and crushed red, white and black peppercorns. The famous Sichuan pepper is also used.
Something I find particularly interesting about this cuisine is the prominence of sweet flavours in the early days. According to historical studies the people in the kingdom of Shu in Sichuan, during the period of the Three Kingdoms, actually liked to eat sweet food. After this, throughout the Jin Dynasty, pungent food was favoured, which at the time consisted of onions, chives, mustard and ginger. Hot pepper, a pivotal ingredient of this cuisine today, was only introduced 200 – 300 years ago. So you can see how the cuisine has clearly developed over time, and whilst spice is of course a key characteristic, it doesn’t define Sichuan food, which has much more to offer.