Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lantern Festival : New Year Marathon's Finale

CN Tower aka Toronto's Tallest Lantern & Second Chinatown's 
Lanterns along Spadina Avenue
Lantern Festival (or Big New Year) just took place last night, and for most folks it marked the end of the 15 days marathon of feasting. February 17th, 2011 formally ended the Chinese Lunar New Year 
celebrations, marking the end of the winter season and the first night of a full moon. This dates from the rule of Emperor Ming (58-75 AD) of the Han Dynasty. If you missed last night's shining moon, try tonight 
from your window for an awesome sight.

Traditionally, lanterns are lit all over the country in homes and temples to guide all the spirits.   Spectacular processions of exquisite silk and paper lanterns in  
every shape and form would take place 
in the dark streets. At the end of each 
procession a magnificent dragon, carried by at least a dozen men, dance to the 
deafening rhythm of cymbals, drums 
and firecrackers. All this noise is meant to scare away evil spirits. So what happens when people emigrate to another country, lets say 
Canada? Or more specifically, Toronto?

Well, last night in Toronto's second Chinatown it was quiet for Lantern Festival. Nary a single dragon dance along the dark streets of Spadina Avenue/Dundas St. West due its prohibitive cost and not a single 
pedestrian was seen with a lit lantern. No red firecrackers were set off 
into the wee hours tonight, thanks to city by-laws. Would our ancestors back in China be shuddering as Chinese (be they new immigrants or 
CBCs) no longer follow all the steps to vanquish bad spirits? 
Well, I think they might forgive 
contemporary Chinese in Toronto as we do love our lanterns, whatever shape 
and form they may be in 2011. Stepping foot into Dragon City Mall, I was re-
warded with a visual treat of  traditional red and gold lanterns of varying size 
hanging in the lobby and in the mall. 
Meanwhile, Tap Phong, a major 
restaurant supplier and the go-to place 
for George Brown Hospitality students, had a plethora of Chinese and Japanese 
lanterns to set any home, temple or 
restaurant aglow! 
Popping into the popular Kim Moon 
Bakery along my annual behind-the-
scene Chinese New Year tours, I took 
the opportunity to admire some more 
glowing beauties illuminating counters 
filled with New Year treats.  
My all-time favourites lanterns would be the contemporary lantern-
shaped neon lamp posts along Spadina Avenue from Sullivan St. to 
Baldwin Street; what a sight at glowing dusk or on pitch dark night.
Glutinous Rice Balls filled with Black Sesame  float
in Red Bean Soup with Tapioca Beads 

Boiled rice dumplings
to go into soup 

Besides the entertainment and the breath-taking lanterns, another important part of the Lantern Festival would be eating Tang Yuan or Yuan Xiao, the little 
round dumplings made of sweet glutin-
ous rice flour and traditionally stuffed 
with sweet or savoury fillings. As a 
young child, I dubbed this mouth-water-
ing dumpling soup as "Chinese toes" 
soup as the dumplings float to the surface, looking like cute little toes peeping out of the broth! Yes, I was an imaginative child! How one 
make these delectable dumplings varied pending on whether you arrive in Toronto from southern China (most likely Canton area from 1870s 
to 1970s) or recently from northern China (late 1980s onward). The 
usual method followed in southern China is to shape the dough of 
glutinous rice flour into little balls, make a hole, insert with a filling of choice, then close the hole and round out the dumpling by rolling it 
between your hands. 

In northern China, sweet or non-meat stuffing is the usual ingredient. 
The fillings are pressed into hardened cores, dipped lightly in water and rolled in a flat basket containing dry glutinous rice flour. A layer of 
the flour sticks to the filling, which is then again dipped in water and 
rolled in a second time in the rice flour. And so it goes, like rolling a 
snowball, until the dumpling is the desired size! 

My mom traces her roots back to south-
ern China, the Canton region. Oddly 
enough, my mom's dumplings did not 
conform to what I've described above. 
Nevertheless, I always loved the ones 
my mom and I would make, sans fillings, hence a bit chewier. We would roll 
the dough into a long sausage shape, 
and then cut into small balls. They are served with minced pork strewn about in a clear, rich pork bone broth,  and accompanied by bok-choy sweetened by the long, slow simmer in the broth.  

Boil dumplings until they
float to the top of the water 
I thought that everyone made their 
dumpling soup the same way.  Turns 
out that once you immigrate to the new world, you might decide to "improvise" a bit if you're busy raising four children! Yesterday to my horrors, my mom pro-
claimed herself to too tired to make any of these delectable dumplings, savoury or sweet ... Since I was craving them so badly, and lacking time to make them from scratch,  I decided to take matters into my own hands by  purchasing a package of frozen dump-
lings filled with black sesame and sugar!  I followed the English 
instructions printed on the package: I boiled them 5-6 minutes until 
they floated to the top of the boiling water. Drained and added them to my leftover New Year's Day soup - Sweet Red Bean Soup with 
Tapioca Beads. Absolutely delicious!

By the way, did I mention that these dumplings symbolizes family 
unity, completeness and happiness? While I sipped the soup and 
nibbled into the chewy dumplings with crunchy sesame centre,  I 
also savoured looking out the kitchen window,  as last night was the 
15th day of Chinese New Year festival,  the first night to see a full 
moon ... If the skies stay clear the next few evenings,  look up you 
happen to be  outdoors tonight or look out of your window for a 
fantastic sight! 

Tang Yuan filled with Black Sesame & Sugar

Now I'll be going back to the gym for much needed workouts as I get 
ready for Persian New Year's celebrations in mid March ... 

1 comment:

  1. Results from the 2 polls running until Lantern Festival

    POLL #1: Dine In/Out for Chinese New Year?
    55% - Home
    45% - Dine out

    POLL #2: Favourite Chinese New Year Traditions?
    55% - Getting Lucky Money
    55% - New Year Eve Banquet
    45% - Eat New Year Pastries