Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kung Hei Fat Choy! Chinese New Year, New York City style.

This past Sunday, I welcomed in the 'Year of the Dragon' in New York City's Chinatown. I have to thank Elaine, The Gourmet 'Girl,' for my current obsession with all things Chinese. Through our friendship, she has opened my eyes and palate to a wonderfully rich culture of fabulous art, music, colorful and elegant clothing and people. And, of course, let's not forget the food.. Ah... the food.

We always start our Chinatown sojourn early in the morning, making our way through the shops, fresh produce stands, fish markets & butcher shops with their Peking Ducks hanging in the windows.After strolling Mulberry and Mott Streets, we end up at one of the area's best spots for Dim Sum, Sunshine 27 Restaurant, on the Bowery.

Now, the first sign that this is the place to be, is the fact that it's filled with locals and those Chinese tourist who know where to find the best their culture has to offer. That said, if there were possibly 10 of us Caucasians in a dining room of over 200, it was a lot. So, rule of thumb: when experiencing the cuisine of another culture, go to where the locals go.

Sunshine 27 is a large, bustling restaurant serving Dim Sum, Hong Kong style, with carts. Parties are often seated together at communal tables and the camaraderie is amazing. If you are not a Dim Sum aficionado, sitting with those who are familiar with the cuisine is a great way to learn. As the carts come around, you are offered choices of Shumai, Shrimp Dumplings, and yes, for the more adventurous, Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce.
Now, here is the best part; we sat for over an hour, were stuffed from the food and pot of fresh tea served to every patron and when the bill came, it was a mere $15.00 for two. Dim Sum can be a great family value in this economy, while at the same time, exposing your kids to an historic cuisine, culture and people.
After our Dim Sum feast, we head over to the Golden Steamer Bakery, on Mott St., to pick up Pork Buns and other traditional Chinese sweets. Then, as the crowds start to swell in anticipation, we find a spot amongst the throngs of tourists and residents alike, to view the Chinese New Year's parade.

Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year is the longest and most important festivity in the Chinese calendar. The origin of Chinese New Year is itself centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and traditions. Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations, such as China, Indonesia, Tibet, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and also in Chinatowns around the world. It marks the end of the winter season. The festival begins on the first day of the first month in the traditional Chinese calendar and ends with Lantern Festival on the 15th day. Because the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, the Chinese New Year is often referred to as the "Lunar New Year." We have just come out of the Year of the Rabbit (2011), with this, (2012) being the Year of the Dragon. Next year (2013) will be the Year of the Snake.

Dim Sum
The unique culinary art of dim sum originated with the Cantonese in southern China, who over the centuries transformed yum cha (drink tea) from a relaxing respite to a loud and happy dining experience. In Hong Kong, and in most cities and towns in Guangdong province, many restaurants start serving dim sum as early as five in the morning. It is a tradition for the elderly to gather to eat dim sum after morning exercises.

Literally meaning "to touch your heart," dim sum consists of a variety of dumplings, steamed dishes and other goodies, much like hors d'ouvres served in traditional French restaurants.
Eating dim sum at a restaurant is usually known in Cantonese as going to "drink tea" (yum cha), as tea is typically served with dim sum.
There are common tea-drinking and eating practices or etiquette that Chinese people commonly recognize and use. These are practiced not only during dim sum meals but during other types of Chinese meals as well. It is customary to pour tea for others during dim sum before filling one's own cup. A custom unique to the Cantonese is to thank the person pouring the tea by tapping the bent index finger if you are single, or by tapping both the index and middle finger if you are married, which symbolizes 'bowing' to them. 

Some popular types of Dim Sum

Shrimp Dumpling or Hargao
Delicate steamed dumplings with whole or chopped-up shrimp filling and thin wheat starch skin.

Jiǎozi or Potsticker
Northern Chinese style of dumpling (steamed and then pan-fried jiaozi), usually with meat and cabbage filling.

Shumai or Pork Dumpling
Small steamed dumplings with either pork, prawns or both inside a thin wheat flour wrapper. Usually topped off with crab roe and mushroom.

Bāozi or Bao
Baked or steamed, these fluffy buns made from wheat flour are filled with food items ranging from meat to vegetables to sweet bean pastes

Cheung Fan or Rice noodle roll
Wide rice noodles that are steamed and then rolled. They are often filled with different types of meats or vegetables inside but can be served without any filling

Pheonix claws or chicken feet
These are chicken feet, deep fried, boiled, marinated in a black bean sauce and then steamed.

Lo Mai Gai
Glutinous rice is wrapped in a lotus leaf into a triangular or rectangular shape. It contains egg yolk, dried scallop, mushroom, water chestnut and meat (usually pork and chicken).

There are a few more varieties of Dim Sum, but I thought I'd start you off today with the most popular and most common. I hope you have learned a bit today and I have piqued your interest in exploring Chinese culture and of course, Dim Sum. If you have never experienced the magic that is your local Chinatown, plan a trip and spend a leisurely Sunday strolling through ancient culture, art and cuisine. You'll be glad you did.

As always,

Bon Appetit!


No comments: