I tried Chinese food for years back in Lebanon, only to find out that the Chinese I once knew is called Thai in Australia.
3 years ago, I was invited to a birthday dinner for a guy made in China. I had high expectations to see cashew nuts, bamboo leaves, soy beans, and of course plenty of rice, noodles, and tofu.
The birthday boy had an address we all followed ; and after a walk through the mazes and dungeons of China town, we arrived to a rounded table with a hole in the middle. Not knowing what’s next, I thought to call my mother for a last “I love you, Goodbye”, then a hot pot of boiling water rested in the hole, and the unexpected experience began.
The birthday boy explained every item on the table. And just to make it harder; there were also special methods and techniques to cook and eat whatever dead or alive animal delivered to our plates. At that moment, I believed in two Gods: Richard and Maurice McDonald; Founders of McDonald’s.
Literally everything on the table went together into the boiling inferno: beef, chicken, cabbage, my bag, my phone, my grandmother… and grains of rice as big as a bullet that had a suppository shape. When the guy explained that this kind of rice is particular to China; out of hunger, I desired so much to stick at least one suppository bullet in his ass!
After dinner, starvation opened my appetite for an Italian ice cream available nearby. Finally I can have a stuffed cone of pistachio, macadamia and roasted almonds…And among all the fruity sorbetto flavours, the smell of roasted coffee beans and the chocolate melt; our famous birthday boy finished his night with a green tea ice cream!!! such a pure essence of profanity! Thank God noodle cones are not yet invented!?
3 years later, on a night of reconciliation; I re-experience China, my way. I was fortunate to attend the Noodles Night Market at Hyde Park, with hundreds of Asian stalls selling their street food charms. I noticed a Chinese stall among a fog of steam. Once the fog was clear; buns of variety of flavours – also called dumplings; were ready to please the long queue, including me.
Jiaozi are one of the major forms of dumplings eaten during the Chinese New Year at midnight. They are horn shaped and serving them is believed to bring prosperity. They are eaten all year round, at any time of the day, served in small steamers, and kept hot and ready to eat all day. Available in abundance in China Town and any Chinese foodstall, usually sold in few pieces for as low as $5.00 (3 to 5 pieces per order)
According to folk tales, Jiaozi were invented by Zhang Zhongjing, a very popular practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. They were originally called “tender ears” because they were used to treat frostbitten ears.
When I shared a house couple of years ago, one of my flat mates was a wonderful Canadian Chinese who loved making his dumplings, and I watched him rolling each piece with the help of a chopstick. While his favourite filling was pork mince, the recipe below can also be made with the usage of minced beef:
Combine 300 gr of mince (pork or beef), 4 green chopped onion, 2 crushed garlic cloves, ¼ chopped bamboo shoot, 2 tsps. rice wine, ¼ tsps. white pepper and ¾ tsps. oil in a bowl. Season with salt.
Place 1 teaspoon mixture into centre of 1 fresh wonton wrapper. Brush edges with water. Fold wonton over to make a triangle. Bring base corners of triangle together. Press firmly to join.
Wrap the base of a large steamer basket with a baking paper. Place dumplings, in a single layer, in basket. Pour water into a wok until one-quarter full. Bring to the boil over high heat. Place steamer over wok, ensuring base doesn’t touch water. Steam dumplings for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender and cooked through.
Combine 1cm piece of finely chopped ginger, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 ½ tablespoons white wine vinegar, 3 tsps. of sugar and 1 tbsp. of chopped coriander leaves in a bowl. Stir until well combined. Serve with dumplings.
The 12 animal signs in the Chinese zodiac are known to the Chinese as the Twelve Earthly Stems. Some say they derive from an ancient tale of Buddha holding a race and asking all the animals to participate. The first 12 were given a place in the calendar. The Rat won by riding on the Ox’s back and the Pig came last because he stopped to have a meal (that would be me!)
Whether you are a charming Snake, a witty Monkey or a friendly Rabbit, make sure you do the following to guarantee prosperity:
Clean your house from top to bottom and pay off all debts before New Year.
Decorate your home in red to scare away evil spirits and bad fortune.
Place mandarins in bowls throughout the house. Mandarins with their leaves still intact are the fruits of happiness for the New Year. Keep their numbers even though, as uneven numbers bring unhappiness.
Make sure the barrel of rice is full at New Year to ensure prosperity in the year to come.
Happy New Year!