Chinese New Year is not celebrated in my family. We’re not Chinese (if either Speedy or I have distant Chinese ancestors, we are not aware of them) but I love Chinese food. It was an integral part of my childhood. Not that Chinese food in the Philippines passes the test of purity. Most of it is fusion—an adaptation that combines local produce with Chinese cooking techniques. It’s true of Chinese food around the world—except in China itself.
The assimilation of Chinese food into local cuisines did not, of course, happen overnight. Rather, it is a result of waves of Chinese migration over the centuries. The earliest migration occurred around 210 BCE when the aging Qin Shi Huang, First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, dispatched Xu Fu, the court sorcerer, on a second voyage to find the “elixir of life” that would make him immortal. Xu Fu left with a crew of 5,000 and the fleet consisted of 60 barques. Xu Fu never returned. Some historians believe that he reached Japan and never left. Why would he? There was no “elixir of life” and had he come home with a fake “elixir of life” and the Emperor died, he would have been exposed as a charlatan and probably beheaded.
Over the next centuries, more Chinese would travel to foreign lands — some, to perform military duties or some other bidding of the Emperor; others, to engage in trade. Many of these travelers chose to leave China permanently and they formed communities in their adopted homes. Today, we know those communities as Chinatown, the oldest of which is in Manila.
So, to all the Chinese, wherever you are in the world, Happy Chinese New Year! I will forever be a lover of Chinese food.
Now, what dishes are Chinese New Year appropriate?
If cooking fish, remember to serve it whole:
Gold-colored food, round or otherwise, is traditional:
If making dumplings, remember that it is all about the correct filling and the number of pleats.
And, of course, noodles which must be cooked and served uncut:
Pancit bihon with lechon kawali
Chicken lo mein with soy-lemon sauce: fast, easy, tasty
Pancit bihon with chicken, Chinese sausage, kikiam and crab balls
Oriental noodles with peanut sauce
Ernest’s pancit canton with bacon–cut pork
For a complete list of Chinese recipes in the archive, click here.