Chicken and pork are popular dishes along with fish. As well as being the most exciting date in the Chinese calendar, in many households Nian Ye Fan is also a time for humble comfort dishes which emphasise the important traditions of family and sharing.
This year we're ushering in the Year of the Horse with a clay pot chicken dish with wood ear mushrooms. We're accompanying the subtle flavours and intriguingly chewy textures with fish fragrant aubergines, red braised pork, Sichuan-style greens with minced pork and steamed rice. For an extra special touch to a Chinese New Year Eve's dinner party serve the meal with patterned chopsticks decorated with traditionally dressed gentlemen.
For dessert, niángāo is a traditional sticky cake made from glutinous rice flour, coconut milk and Chinese brown sugar. Niángāo translates as 'year high' reflecting a hope for a happier and more prosperous New Year. Some sources suggest that the cake was made as an offering for the Kitchen God - “with the aim that his mouth will be stuck with the sticky cake, so that he can’t badmouth the human’s family to the God of all Gods”.
It is very sticky stuff! Other stories circulate about the origin of niángāo – in Ancient China the Wu Kingdom built strong walls to defend itself from attack. Before his death Prime Minister Wu Zixu instructed his people to dig under the wall if hard times ever befell the Kingdom. Years later in the midst of a siege the people were on the point of starvation when they remembered their leader’s words. Digging under the wall they found bricks made of glutinous rice which, it is said, became the original niángāo.
Top the niángāo with gold leaf, or a traditional jujube red date for luck! Enjoy the niángāo on its own or for an extra special indulgence try pan-frying in egg to transform it into a delicious eggy ‘bread’.
A Chinese New Year celebration needs a suitably special tipple. The Chinese celebrate special occasions with baijiu, a clear white spirit or ‘firewater’ brewed from sorghum and other grains. Serve baijiu straight or add to cocktails to give them a real kick. Tangerines, which symbolise fortune in China, can be freshly squeezed and mixed with baijiu for the perfect Chinese New Year cocktail.