Chinese New Year

Excerpts from the Portland Press Herald

Sally Ng cooks Chun Bing (Spring Pancakes) at her Portland home. The pancakes are a traditional Chinese New Year's dish.

WINDHAM — A half-dozen adults stood around the island in Kari and Bob Suva’s warm kitchen, patiently folding wonton skins around a tasty, tender filling of browned pork, chopped shrimp, cabbage and spices.Clearly, when it came to making jiao zi — Chinese dumplings — I was the novice of the group. My fingers fumbled as I pressed the edges of the dough together, trying to get that lovely, crescent-moon shape that seemed to come so easily to everyone else at this Saturday night dumpling party. I noticed that the other women each had their own technique for putting the little ripple in the edge of the dough.

Luo Fan, a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine and a dance instructor at Portland’s Chinese School, busied herself making an alternative filling of pork, rice noodles and Chinese winter mushrooms. Her father doesn’t like vegetables, she explained, and her mother loves rice noodles….

Tomorrow is the beginning of the Chinese New Year, a celebration of the coming spring that will go on for two weeks. I went to the dumpling party to learn more about New Year traditions and the role food plays in the festivities.

Later in the week, I paid a visit to Sally Ng at her home on the West End, where she showed me how to make spring pancakes and generously offered to share her locally famous recipe for Chinese New Year Cake. Ng is a teacher at the Chinese School, a program of the Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine. She also tutors adults and children in Chinese in her home.

Tonight, the New Year celebration will begin with a huge family meal, and dumplings will be eaten at midnight for luck….

Ng provided more details of New Year’s festivities later in the week, as we made spring pancakes filled with pork and vegetables in her West End kitchen.

Chinese families prepare a big meal on the eve of the New Year, she explained, because they don’t eat any fresh-cooked food for three days afterward. They are too busy visiting family and close friends and offering greetings of ”Gong Xi Fa Cai,” which is a wish for happiness and prosperity in the coming year.

During these visits, children receive ”hong bao,” gifts of money stuffed into red envelopes.

”In the whole year, this is the only time we could get money for ourself,” Ng said, ”and then we can spend it at our wish, without our parents’ approval.”

These excerpts are provided solely for scholarly purposes under the Fair Use doctrine.

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