chinese new year food

Well, despite the fact that we’ve been here a while, I’m only just getting to the food here now, six months later. So be it. What better way to start that with the start of the new year? The Year of the Ox came in on Monday and Sunday night was the traditional gathering with family. We were invited to Christine’s co-teacher’s mother-in-law’s to join in the feast. And what a feast! Her mother-in-law had been in the kitchen for hours and barely came out while we sat, insisting she had to keep cooking! Mothers, the same everywhere. So here’s what was laid out that night, starting at the top left and going clockwise:

1. Large pieces of fish with some amazing topping. I have no idea what the topping was, only that it was delicious. Very common to find that here, though – they love their fish.

2. Needle mushrooms and bamboo. Probably my least favourite dish, it smelled very Taiwanese. It’s hard to describe what that means (maybe a little cloying and thick?), but it’s distinctive.

3. Two kinds of soup. This is a New Year’s Eve specialty – usually only one kind of soup is served. The bigger bowl is chicken and ginseng and some other special Taiwanese dried berry-medicine thing. The other soup is turnip, corn, and chicken. Chicken and home are the same word (different tone) in Taiwanese, so that’s why chicken soup is pretty popular, especially at weddings.

4. Whole shrimp. Very nicely done, I ate a lot of these.

5. (in the far corner) A cabbage dish. This was nice, it had a little meat on top and was cooked in a broth.

6. Clams. Oh, delicious clams with basil, which does a great job of getting rid of the fishy taste. I ate a lot of these. There was another plate of these beside the #1fish.

7. Crab legs. Cooked to the point that the crab could just be scraped out. Really tasty, though a little time consuming, being crab legs and all.

8. Green beans with pork and spicy peppers. I really liked these and would love to know how to make them. Just like regular green beans, but with a kick and little extra tastes.

9. (white and dark orange) Prepared, pressed fish roe, a very popular dish here in Taiwan. The deep-fried items are whole female fish (full of eggs) and the yellow things are something sweetish wrapped in some kind of pastry. Sorry, this is how reporting will be here sometimes – I just don’t know or there isn’t any English.

10. Crab and Chinese celery. I think this may have been my favourite dish. Done in a broth, very simple, but so very good. So much crab with no effort. That may have been what did it for me.

We brought Bailey’s, which wasn’t the best choice, as the mother- and father-in-law are teetotalers. Oh well, you can’t win them all. We had a fabulous feast and were filled to the gills for the rest of the night.

A few other Chinese New Year traditional foods: oranges (I think because the first sound for orange sounds like the word for wish, but this is merely conjecture), peaches (signs of wealth of good fortune), pomelos (not sure why), and pineapple (in Taiwanese the word for pineapple sounds like “good come”, though I don’t think they specifically eat it). Oh, there is also a type of candy-coated peanut which only appears around this time. Nothing special, they’re always pink and white, but they are only available around Chinese New Year.

I always enjoy this time, certainly for the food. As with any holiday anywhere, it brings out the best in people’s cooking and some of the best, most special dishes. I’m really glad we got to take in such a wonderful sharing this year.

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