Tuesday, February 1, 2011

3 Hot Trends in Celebrating Chinese New Year's Eve

Crab & Fish Maw Soup 
As we exit the Year of the Tiger and enter the Year of the Rabbit, we're witnessing some families clinging tenaciously to traditions, and others wholeheartedly embracing new ones as demographic,  geographic and logistics play pivotal roles.  Traditionally the Chinese Matriarch shopped and prepared for several days, and then actually singlehandedly cooked on their home stoves the 8 to12 lavish symbolic dishes. The whole family would gather together at home for this communal feast to end all feast; rarely would outsiders be invited for this sacred occasion thanks to superstitions, and dining out was never entertained. Once the meal's completed, the mountain of dishes, pots and pans needs to be tackled.  That was the annual tradition for the longest time with my family and many others.  Wednesday February 2nd, 2011 marks the 4th year since I started hosting the annual Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve and New Year's Day multi-course dinner banquets.  In 2008 I hosted an 8-course dinner banquet, and now we're up to two unique 11-course feasts.  Since 1997, when I started conducting my annual behind-the-scenes Chinese New Year tours, I've noticed three interesting trends:

Free Range Chicken Steamed & Served with Grated Ginger & Diced Green Onion: 
a symbol of Peace & Harmony in the New Lunar Year!  

Trend #1: Aging & Young Matriarchs Get to Dine Out! 
Unwittingly,  I'm either leading the pack (of half-hearted or whole-hearted folks) or embrace an emerging and interesting trend.  If you look at demographics, we now have an increasing number of aging Chinese Matriarchs, be it in Canada, United States or abroad.  A growing number of adult children are convincing their beloved aging Matriarchs to hand over the task of cooking the numerous symbolic dishes to Chinese restaurants.  This marks the fourth year my mom, the amazing cook that she is, gets to relinquish her role as cook extraordinaire and be able to totally savour the Chinese New Year's Eve celebrations sans exhaustion!  The mountain of dirty dishes to be washed?  That's taken care of, when your family makes that pivotal decision to dine out! Trust me, my sister and I, do NOT miss washing the volume of dirty dishes! Anyway, look around at any packed Chinese restaurant this coming Chinese New Year's Eve on Wednesday February 2nd, 2011 and you'll see many families headed by a very happy Matriarch who is beaming and relaxed... like my lucky mom!  You're probably wondering about the adult children, namely, the grown-up daughters.  Most women  work, whether they're the single gal, single mom, married or married with children. Imagine after a day of hard work, and you still have to trudge up and down the packed aisles in Asian grocery stores to shop for all your ingredients! Then you have to prepare the complicated dishes, and somehow find the time plus energy to virtually cook all day long! There are only 24 hours in any given day! So it's not surprising over the last few years, I've noticed more young families eating out on this special evening and treating mom and grandma.

Symbolic Chinese Greens for Growing Your Good Fortune!
Trend #2: More Young Chinese On Their Own
At my hosted banquets over the last four years, much to my own surprise I've been getting more young Chinese individuals attending my hosted Chinese New Year's Eve or Day banquets. Turns out, many can't find the money and/or time off from work to fly home for the occasion. In 2011, the festivities kicks off in the middle of the week, making it even more challenging to do so! Because of career choices, often folks have to relocate to a city different from where their families live. So if you don't have any family members in the same city, then celebrating by eating 8 to 12 dishes by yourself is no fun at all! Highlight of the night for me: many of them thanking me for the opportunity to eat the symbolic dishes they crave from childhood and oddly enough, a chance to share their memories of ancient superstitions still playing a role in their own lives with other attendees! To top it off, some attend so they can share their culture with their partner of a different cultural/ethnic background. Talk about embracing each others' cultures, traditions and creating new traditions! Toronto, the Meeting Place it is!

Trend #3: The Family Size & Members are Changing 
Over the 18 years of conducting the Chinese New Year tours, I've seen children of interesting cultural backgrounds. The size of the family is now shrinking - I come from a family of four whereas now we're seeing family of two children. I'm now witnessing at my tables families adopting Chinese children, and trying to help their kids embrace the customs and traditions connected with the festivities of Chinese New Year.

I'm looking forward to Chinese New Year's Eve as it kicks-off 15-days of festivities.  I'm excited about sharing the rich customs, traditions and superstitions of Chinese New Year’s Eve, while savouring an authentic communal banquet!  It will be an evening of equal portions of food and facts, as I shed light on old and new customs, plus superstitions throughout the evening. Novice banquet attendees will appreciate the tips I'll be sharing on how to pace themselves to enjoy the banquet to the fullest, and all guests will love the stories behind the auspicious names of the decadent dishes. The Year of the Rabbit has been associated with culture and learning, and we're kicking of the year with plenty of both! 

So how are you celebrating Chinese New Year festivities? I look forward to hearing how you celebrate it wherever you are in the world! So feel free to add your comments below and take part in the two polls to the right.

        2011 Chinese New Year's Eve Menu

Traditional Dessert Soup:
Red Bean with Tapioca Beads

* Crab Meat & Fish Maw Soup
* Spicy & Salty Jumbo Shrimps Lightly Battered
* Phoenix Nest with Seafood Medley & Vegetables
* Whole Crispy Chicken with Shrimp Chips & Seasoned Salt
* Sliced Pork with Special Sweet & Sour Sauce
* Medley of Braised Vegetables, Seafood, Chicken & Pork
* Double Lobsters with Green Onions & Ginger
* Whole Steamed Fish with Green Onions & Ginger
* Braised E-Fu Noodles
* Yangzhou Fried Rice
* Traditional Dessert Soup & Fortune Cookies  

 Happy New Year! 
Gung Hey Fatt Choi in Cantonese!
Gong Xi Fa Chai in Mandarin!
Chuc Mung Nam Mui in Vietnamese! 

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