2013 is the Chinese Year of the Snake. It started with a thousand bangs at the stroke of midnight on 10 February, heralding in two weeks of festivities culminating in the glorious Lantern Festival.
Chinese tradition shows us there is no better way to welcome in the New Year than with family, friends and food. So we thought we would put together the ultimate guide to hosting your own Chinese New Years feast this year.
USE YOUR CHOPSTICKS
Chinese eating is all about sharing, so start with a few plates of dumplings , dim sum and wontons with cherry dipping sauce and add small bowls of soya sauce, grated ginger and spring onions on the side.
Most Chinese meals come to the table ready sliced and diced, making easy work of eating even the trickiest dishes, while using chopsticks allows you to pick at a range of aromatic flavours all at once.
DID YOU KNOW?
Most chopsticks are made in China but a company in Georgia in the USA have caught on to the demand of chopsticks and now make at least 2 million pairs daily?
SAYING CHEERS AT THE CHINESE TABLE
The drink of choice in China is first and foremost tea and there are three main varieties to choose from: black, green and oolong, each drunk with care and time to stay true to the ceremonial tradition.
You could try our iced green tea with sweet green pepper jelly.
But if the thought of serving tea doesn’t go down well at your dinner party, then bottles of chilled Chinese beer certainly will. Chinese beer is a dark beer made with barley, rice and hops.
If you can’t find some at your local Chinese shop, simply opt for local dark beers and place them in your Chinese-decorated New Year’s ice bucket.
MIND YOUR MANNERS
It’s considered bad form to fill your own glass before topping up others’ around you and it is tradition to gently tap your middle finger on the table to give thanks to the pourer. Toasting is an essential part of the celebration and carries on right through mealtime.
Tea-stained eggs are a staple during Chinese New Year and often served at the start of the meal. Try our Rooibos-marbled eggs.
DID YOU KNOW?
The number of side dishes a family eats depends on their household income: poor people, who reside in villages, can afford about 1 side dish per meal per family; most middle class families in big cities can afford 2 - 3 dishes, and upper middle class or affluent families can afford 3 - 4 side dishes per family member.
LEGACY OF TASTE
The regions of China are a big influence on the flavours: North is salty (try Mongolian lamb), South is Sweet (try Cantonese-style fish and with a local spin: sweet and sour ostrich stir-fry). The Chinese like to prepare the whole fish steamed, with the head and tail still intact. The word fish in Chinese (yu) is a homophone for "abundance".
The West is Sour (try Yunnan steamed pot chicken) and East is hot (or try the traditional Shanghai soy duck).
All these cuisines come together to create signature Chinese dishes, such as the popular streetfood, spicy Sichuan noodles, that all share a harnmonious balance of flavours, colours and textures and a long tradition of excellence.
Most dishes can be prepared a head of time and cooked when ready to be served.
Meat is seen as a status symbol in China so don’t be shy to bulk up your dishes with pork, like this gorgeous pork neck roast with peachy salsa.
The Chinese believe a meal is never complete without a soup, and soups are often taylored to maintain the family's health.
They'll have vegetable soups for cleansing the digestive system, the lungs from heavy pollution, to cleanse the liver, clearing teenage acne or for treating colds and flu. Try our Chinese noodles in vegetable broth with crispy tofu.
BRING OUT THE FRUIT
The Chinese love fruits and they like them big and beautiful. Fresh fruit at the New Year symbolises life and a new beginning while sugared ones are a wish for a sweet year.
Traditionally, grapefruit, mandarins or what we call the naartjie or clementine, as well as limes, bananas, pineapple and water- or winter melon are seen as auspicious fruits.
Mandarins are considered a sign of abundance and good fortune and are displayed as decoration or presented as gifts during the two-week New Year celebrations.
End the evening off with a big bowl of fortune cookies and hand out red envelopes sealed with a few coins inside for good luck.
Happy year of the Snake and Gong Xi Fa Ca! (wishing you prosperity)