With the Lunar New Year starting Monday (January 26), what better time to gather the family and celebrate by creating a local feast to commemorate the Year of the Ox.
In Chinese culture, food prepared during this celebratory season is meant to bring luck as many dishes have symbolic meaning in relation to their appearance and by the meaning of their name.
You’ll be amazed to learn how our local food, in its freshness and goodness, can inspire you to bring some of this symbolic significance to your own family meal table, provide you with new-found-knowledge of what foods symbolize in other cultures, and how that meaning can be translated by you.
Preparing a meal like this will bring you and your family health in body and spirit.
Wontons are a must-serve appetizer in the company of good family and friends – in the Chinese culture they symbolize a family reunion.
Traditionally, families prepare the dumplings together and then eat them at midnight during their lunar celebrations. You can find these amazing appies at Brambles Market in downtown Courtenay – owner Angeline Street recommends picking up some yummy plum sauce to dip them in.
And don’t forget the fortune cookies – it’s always fun to see your destiny in writing and share it around the table.
Serve up some clams or oysters if you want to bring some prosperity to your palate – shellfish is another good-fortune food as the shape resembles silver or gold bouillon.
Fanny Bay Oysters is the best place to buy fresh in the shell oysters and clams at their retail store in Buckley Bay. And on a nutritional level, oysters particularly are rich for your health as they are full of iron, copper and other minerals.
Most dishes are served alongside traditional steamed rice, or with noodles which represent a long life. Don’t cut them! That would bring bad luck.
A tasty main dish option for your festive feast is sweet and sour pork. The Chinese word for pork sounds similar to the word grandchildren so hopeful grandparents prepare this as a main meal, in hopes of bringing a new addition to the family.
Tannadice Farms’ Heather and Allen McWilliam raise their pork in a natural, humane manner and their meat, which is deliciously fresh and lean, is available at Brambles, Butchers Block, Edible Island and Courtenay Country Market.
You can also stir-fry the pork for delicious lettuce wraps. The Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like ‘rising fortune’ so adding some greens means you’re adding more luck!
Toss in some more local goodness in the form of mung bean sprouts from Courtenay’s Eatmore Sprouts, available at Edible Island and Brambles. The Chinese words for these crunchy shoots mean ‘silver sprouts,’ ensuring a positive start to the year ahead.
Roasting up a whole chicken signifies wholeness and prosperity for your family.
Duck is another celebration meal choice as it symbolizes fidelity. Christine’s Quackery in Comox sells whole ducks and chickens and you’ll marvel at how lean and tasty the meat is. This farm at 2051 Idiens Way in Comox is a wondrous place for families to visit and shop in the self-serve farm market. Owner Christine Gauvin prides herself on the honour system where folks leave their payment in a jar, and your tots will love visiting with and petting the many farm animals.
If you still have room, fish is served traditionally at the end of a Chinese New Year’s meal. You’ll find fabulous fresh cod, snapper and sole at Fanny Bay Oysters this time of year. And try some Szechuan Black Bean Sauce by That Extra Touch out of Qualicum Bay, a slightly sweet sauce that is the perfect accompaniment to fish – this delectable Asian delight is available at Brambles.
If you can, buy the fish whole with both head and tail still attached as this means you will have a happy beginning and ending to the coming year. The word for fish is “yu” and it resembles the Chinese words for wish and abundance, making it customary to indulge in a ‘wish for abundance’ for the coming year.
I’ll eat to that!
SMALL SUCCESS: Cooking an entire meal.
Last night I made the most delicious pork chops and salad for dinner. It was an hour later than usual, but we were all so happy to sit around the dinner table together and enjoy the nice kind of meal that we’d normally have on a Tuesday night. We’ve had lovely friends bring us by meals that were wonderful when neither of us could bring ourselves to get domestic. But, again, it’s the return to simple normalization that makes us all feel like we are making progress.