Gung hay fat choy ! (Wishing you happiness and prosperity!)
This popular Chinese New Year greeting will be exchanged often when the year 4684 begins Sunday. Although they adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1912, the Chinese continue to celebrate the new year on the date determined by their ancient lunar calendar.
Unlike our Jan. 1 occasion, the date of the Chinese holiday changes. It is celebrated on the second new moon after winter solstice, sometime between Jan. 21 and Feb. 19.
The Chinese calendar runs in a cycle of 12 animal signs--rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and boar. Legend has it that an ancient emperor invited all the animals to a feast, but only 12 appeared. He established a year to honor each one. This will be a year of the tiger.
Traits of the Animals
The Chinese also believe that people born under each of these signs have certain traits typical of the animals. For fun, you may want to check the chart above and see if you agree.
The arrival of the new year is celebrated with festivities that continue for anywhere from a week to a full month (although 10 days to two weeks is most common). This is a very important holiday for the Chinese, a time for private (family) and public celebrations. It's considered a time of new beginnings--all debts should be paid and houses thoroughly cleaned.
It is also a time of philosophical reflection, as well as relaxation. Gifts are exchanged, including money in red envelopes, called lei-see , symbolizing good luck.
Public celebrations include parades with dragons and fireworks (only natural for the people who discovered gunpowder). Here in Chinatown, the Golden Dragon Parade will be held Feb. 15 at 4 p.m. Lion and dragon dancers will cavort up Broadway, along with floats, marching bands, drill teams and movie and television stars.
Tribute to Hearth God
Private celebrations often begin with the burning of a paper image of Tsao Wang, the hearth god. The Chinese believe this sends him to report on the past year to the ruler of heaven, the Jade Emperor.
Special foods are prepared and served in a multicourse feast. Meat, seafood, poultry and vegetable dishes may be included, along with soup and rice. Lucky fruit--oranges and tangerines--are often served for dessert. BEEF LIVER ORIENTAL
1/2 pound beef liver or flank steak
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons dry Sherry
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 slices ginger root
1 green onion, sliced
Cut liver into 1/4-inch strips. Combine oyster sauce, Sherry, soy sauce and 1 tablespoon oil. Toss meat with sauce mixture. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in wok or large skillet. Add ginger and green onion. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium-high heat 2 minutes. Remove ginger slices.
Lift meat from marinade with slotted spoon, reserving marinade. Cook meat in skillet over medium-high heat 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add marinade, cover and cook 1 minute. Serve over rice. Makes 2 servings. SWEET-SOUR CHICKEN WITH LYCHEES
2 large whole chicken breasts
1/2 cup water chestnuts
2 green onions
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons Sherry
1 teaspoon salt
4 egg whites, beaten stiff
1 cup bottled sweet-sour sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons water
1 (1-pound) can lychees, drained
Skin, bone and cut chicken into chunks. Coarsely grind chicken, water chestnuts and green onions in food processor or meat grinder. Add 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1/4 cup soy sauce, Sherry and salt, blending well.
Fold in beaten egg whites. Shape chicken mixture into walnut-size balls. Heat oil for deep-frying to 375 degrees. Deep-fry chicken balls, a few at time, until golden. Drain on paper towels.
Combine sweet-sour sauce with chicken broth in large saucepan over low heat. Blend remaining 1/4 cup cornstarch, remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce and water. When sauce mixture is hot, add cornstarch mixture. Cook, stirring, until sauce thickens.
Add chicken balls and lychees. Heat through. Makes 6 to 8 servings. ORIENTAL SPINACH SOUP
1/2 pound spinach
6 cups chicken broth
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 (8-ounce) can bamboo shoots, drained
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
Rinse spinach well. Remove stems and discard. Drain well. Cut into 1-inch pieces.
Bring chicken broth to boil in large saucepan. Add mushrooms and bamboo shoots and simmer, covered, 10 minutes.
Add spinach and simmer, uncovered, 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Add sesame oil. Makes 4 to 5 servings. SICHUAN PORK STIR-FRY
1/2 pound boneless lean pork
1/4 cup bottled teriyaki barbecue marinade and sauce
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red peppers
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons oil
12 radishes, thinly sliced
2 medium zucchini, julienned
4 cups shredded lettuce
Slice pork into thin strips. Combine with 1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce and red peppers. Set aside. Combine cornstarch, remaining teriyaki sauce, vinegar and water. Set aside. Cut onion into chunks and separate into pieces.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in wok or large skillet over high heat. Add pork mixture. Stir-fry 2 minutes or until pork is lightly browned. Remove from pan.
Heat remaining oil in same pan. Add onion and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add radishes and zucchini, sprinkle lightly with salt and stir-fry 1 minute longer or until vegetables are tender-crisp.
Stir in pork and cornstarch mixture. Cook and stir until mixture thickens and boils. Spoon over lettuce on serving platter. Makes 4 servings.