Photo Credit: userealbutter.com
Firecrackers blasting in the middle of the yard, red envelopes filling up my pockets, the savory aroma of dumplings filling the air, this was how I spent my Chinese New Years growing up. The best part about every holiday is the food because let’s be honest, who doesn’t love to eat extra good food once in a while? Sometimes I wonder if all the holidays and special occasions we celebrate are just another reason for us to eat better food, because that would be awesome. For as long as I can remember, my family would always take time out of our busy lives and bond over a big meal together whenever it’s a holiday or special occasion. Chinese New Year symbolizes that unity between families, and within the two weeks of celebration, my family would take me to visit as many relatives as possible and eat to my heart’s content. I loved the different restaurants we went to and all the foods were absolutely delicious, however I don’t really remember all the people we met with or where we went to eat most of those days. All I recall from those fancy restaurants was how overwhelmed I was with the presentation of the food and the feeling that my tummy was going to burst. I love to go eat exquisite dishes from fancy places so don’t get me wrong, but just like Dorothy from Wizard of Oz said “There is no place like home”.
Chinese New Year is a special holiday not only because of its symbolism, but also because it falls on different dates every year with no specific pattern. Chinese New Year, or often referred to as “Lunar New Year”, is determined by the cycle of the moon. Since no one can regulate how fast the moon travels, it makes every year distinct. The celebration lasts from 7-15 days depending on the various regions of China. Some parts of China celebrates longer than others because food is more abundant in some locations than others. Since China New Years is a huge celebration, the money that’s invested in making new years pleasant takes a huge toll on some families incomes. Fortunate enough for me though, my family usually celebrate the whole 15 days just for the sake of celebrating. I, of course, loved the celebration because it meant endless food, money, and lots and lots of fireworks.
On every New Year’s Eve, our family would gather at my grandmother’s house, sit around in a big wooden circle table and have our annual meal together. Typically speaking, fifteen dishes would be present on the table and each of them representing good fortune in a distinct way. For instance, duck symbolizes fidelity while eggrolls resemble wealth and much more. The evening would start off with a toast to the New Year and reflections on all the good things that happened in the year. After that, I would have to wait patiently until all the adults started eating because in the Chinese culture, this is a form of respect for the elders. Food would be passed around and conversations would start and it’s the greatest feeling for me to know that I am blessed a great family that not everybody has.
Meanwhile, red envelopes fill up my pocket one by one and honestly, this is my favorite part of the gathering. Just as every child waits until Christmas morning to open their gifts, I take all my red envelopes and stuff them under my pillow and wait until the next day to open them. As we sit around eating different exotic foods, I would always get my share of dumplings first before they all disappear. A dumpling, or “jiao zi” in Chinese, is a food eaten by almost every family during new years. It symbolizes family reunion and they are represent ingots, or ancient Chinese money (refer to photo below). In the Western culture, it doesn’t matter if you grill, fry, or broil a piece of chicken, the dish would ultimately still be chicken. However, a dumpling stops being a dumpling when it gets fried. In the Asian culture, we refer to fried dumplings as pot stickers because they literally stick to the bottom of the pan. In the Japanese culture, fried “dumplings” are called gyoza. All symbolisms and names aside, I just eat dumplings because they are so juicy and tasty. However, their preparation process is what makes them so special to me.
The day before our big feast, the ladies of the house would gather around and make the dumplings while the men would just be watching television and doing their own thing. Therefore, making dumplings became a girl’s night thing. Usually, we would always buy pre-made wrappers and grind meat to make dumplings. However, during the New Year and only New Year, my grandma would whip out her mixing bowl and flour and make the outside skin from scratch. She would also go to the meat market instead of the super market to buy the finest and the tenderest pieces pork chop. From then on, we would grind the meat manually and chop up all the vegetables to ensure we have all the necessary ingredients for the dumpling. After that, we would all gather at the table and make the dumplings while my grandmother shares her childhood memories about how she celebrated new years.
While dumplings might just be a tasty food to eat and a tradition to everybody else, they resemble the bond and unity within my family. Every time I see a sight of a dumpling, memories would flood through my head and when I take a bite of juicy goodness, I can hear the firecrackers blasting in my ears. This is why dumplings are more than a food that only satisfies my palate and stomach, it satisfies my heart and soul.
How to make dumplings for dummies:
You will need:
1. Grind meat
4. A pot
5. A kitchen
6. The determination to make dumplings
Optional but strongly suggested:
1. Green onion
2. Chinese cabbage
3. Flour to make the outside skin if not bought in stores
1. Please refer to this website as reference:
2. Embrace the challenge, but really, it’s no challenge at all
3. Chop up some green onions and cabbage.
4. Place chopped green onions and cabbage in a large mixing bowl and mix it with grind pork. Note: Even though it takes an irritable amount of time to chop up the cabbage, it will taste significantly better if you chop it by hand rather than dumping in the food processor.
5. Take a pre-made dumpling skin, place it flat on the table, and take a teaspoonful of pork and place it on the wrapper. (If no pre-made dumpling wrapper, see instructions below on how to make dumpling wrapper)
6. Use your finger and place some water on the outer circle of the skin
7. Fold the dumpling in half and make pleats along the edge
8. Pinch close the end of the dumpling and make sure it’s totally sealed
9. Boil up some water
10. Drop the dumpling carefully in boiling water until it floats up.
11. Remove it from the water and serve with soy sauce or vinegar to your liking.
12. Congratulations, you have yourself some dumplings!
How to make dumpling wrappers provided by this website:
Disclaimer: I have never personally made the dough so therefore the instructions on the website above the next best thing.
You will need:
1. 2 cups of flour for 1/2 pound of meat
1. Pour the flour into a mixing bowl
2. Pour in about 1/2 cup of water and pulse
3. Feel the dough, it should be firm and smooth
4. Slice the lump into 4 strips and roll each strip into an even cylinder about 1 1/4 inches in diameter
5. Slice the strip into pieces about 3/4 inch thick, rotating the strip by 90 degrees after each slice
6. Press each slice into a circular disc. The skin should be round and less than ¼ inch thick