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Chinese New Year Treats Part 1

Being a native New Yorker can mean one of two things if you have some sort of ethnic background other than American.

Either you are far out of touch with your own culture that you've adopted someone else's culture, or you've blended your own culture into the big melting pot that is America.

I am the later. Born and raised in New York City and ethnically Chinese, I've been wondering if I am more American than I am American Chinese. I've been back "home" to China four times in my life and I can speak the language properly, but at a low level, enough to have a conversation with someone without sounding too foreign. I don't have many Chinese friends, let alone Asian, since I grew up in Sunset Park, a predominately Hispanic neighborhood.

As a result, even though I attend most of my cultures events, I don't know how to perform them. At this point in my life, I felt it was important enough to learn all this from my parents and give a little insight to the traditions we have, and what better time to start with than the Lunar New Year Celebration?

The Lunar Calendar is extremely important since it is used exclusively to mark our holidays.
There are many complexities in how the calendar works and you can find a lot of information about it on the web by searching "Lunisolar Calendar"

Chinese New Year lands on February 11th 2013, on a New Moon ( that is there is no moon in the sky, opposite of a full moon).

Traditionally you celebrate the eve of the new year with a big dinner. The week of the new year is filled with traditional snacks, depending on where your family is from. Chinese New Year’s is the ONE holiday that most people will go back and visit their family for. It is the one holiday where it is very important to get everyone together and often people will save money to fly back wherever home is if they are able to.

My parents lived through communism in China and Mao Ze Dong's Great Leap Forward, which coincided with a generation of famine (or possibly caused a generation of famine). There were hardly any meat in the snacks so and so their adaptation to some traditional snacks ripples into my own life, thus most of these snacks that we make along the week are mostly vegetarian.

In fact, meat was so hard to come by during my parent’s time that at one point in my father’s life, he told me he had to cook a pig that died of disease or to simply not eat. The government would confiscation nearly every crop and redistribute it, so even grain and vegetables were scarce at some point.
So let’s begin with my FAVORITE snack.

Sticky Rice Sweet Pancakes!

Glutinous rice flour is mixed with boiled sweet potatoes and mashed into a uniform dough. Kinda looks like a really delicious ice cream doesn't it?

This dough is then shaped into a round pad and a sugar and peanut mix is placed into the center. Sometimes it’s just white sugar. Traditionally cane sugar is used since sugar beets are not common place in china.

Then the whole pancake is pinched at the end and rolled into a neat ball. Sticky rice dough does a really good job at sealing ends unlike white flour dough.

The raw dough is then deep fried for about 10 minutes. Sticky rice has a tendency to balloon up while frying, so its important to keep pressing it against the wok to keep it from literally exploding.

Mmmm!!! At the time of writing this, I’ve already eaten 4 of these bad boys!!!

Don’t forget to keep flipping them. Sticky rice burns to a crisp very easily! And make sure the heat is nice and low!

When they are cooked to a golden brown, drain the excess oil and allow it to cool.

Then transfer it to a towel or a piece of paper tissue to soak up the excess oil. Dieters need not apply!

Next is a salty version of this treat.

Again with sticky rice flour mixed with HOT water. Hot water is used since it helps activate the gluten in the flour.
Knead the mixture into a firm dough.

We make a pancake pad again, this time much thinner and we add diced green onion scallions with peanut and some salt.

It is then pinched together flatly without showing any finger prints.

Then, for some flare, the lip can be rolled in.

And then……WE DEEP FRY THEM!!!! Get the drift here?? Again, notice the LOW heat!

Frying takes about 10 minutes and results in salty yummy snack.

Whenever we make sweet potato pancakes, we always make sticky ball dessert with the left overs. It isn’t exactly new year’s food, more so a Full Moon celebratory food (I’ll touch on that next time).
But you can roll up sticky rice balls and boil them in a sweet potatoes and brown sugar mix. It results in a dessert snack that sticks between your teeth.

Then there is New Years Cake! Which is a must for new year’s treats. I’m not a big fan of it but its part of the tradition we do. It’s simply brown cane sugar (which gives it the color) and sticky rice flour and then steamed. The steam cooking gives it a really chewy and slightly jello texture.

Now, I’m nearing food coma, so I’ll update this as we make more snacks and get into the big dinner tomorrow night!