I don’t know about you, but I have those moments that I’m forever trying to put off. Checking my credit card statements and cleaning all my shoes, doing research for a TV programme that might or might not happen.
Those things seem to always keep getting postponed until the last moment. So just recently I was doing a bit of research about bok choy – you know that very pretty little plant from the Chinese cabbage family that was very fashionable a few years ago, also known as pak choi – when I realised that Chinese New Year is almost upon us and that got my mind whirling.
Chinese New Year, or spring festival as it is called in China, is the most important traditional festival for families in China and also the longest with most Chinese people having up to eight days off work to celebrate. The date chosen is based on the Chinese lunar calendar and always falls somewhere in the period between 21 January and 20 February.
So this year we celebrate the year of the goat. Chinese New Year is a time for families to be together with New Year’s Eve dinner being called the reunion dinner and believed by many Chinese people to be the most important meal of the year where families of several generations make a massive effort to sit around tables enjoying food and time together. Sadly I have not been to China yet but I have managed, over the years, to work close to London’s Chinatown and been fortunate enough to be able to see some of the celebrations taking place in Chinese New Year. Every street and house is decorated in red and like at our Christmas, gifts are exchanged, usually wrapped in red paper.
The most common gift is one of money in red envelopes and given, in the majority, to young children and retired people. The most stunning parts of these celebrations happen when the Chinese perform their lion or dragon dances. Very nimble men parade at speed dressed as colourful lions or dragons through the gathered crowds to the incessant banging of a band made up of drums and cymbals. Then it’s off to a restaurant or back to join the family at home. Fish is a must and is believed to bring a surplus of money and good luck in the New Year – as are Chinese dumplings. This is because the shape of these tasty dumplings is like a silver ingot and is believed to bring more money and wealth for the coming year. Spring rolls, rice cakes and sweet rice balls are other foods always included in the celebrations and regarded as bringing good fortune.
Although I can’t find any specific Chinese New Year reference to bok choy, the smaller type, called Shanghai bok choy, is beautiful braised whole and could accompany any Chinese New Year meal. I did find out that bok choy is the ‘crispy seaweed’ that we get in many Chinese restaurants. The green leaves are
shredded and deep fried then sprinkled with a little salt and sugar. It is sometimes sprinkled with a little finely chopped dried shrimp – this dish is then known as mermaid’s tresses.
But whatever it is you’re having to celebrate, I hope you have a happy Chinese New Year!