The Chinese culture dates as far back as 5,000 years. Throughout generations, it is always a custom that on the eve of Chinese New Year, a reunion dinner amongst family members will be held. On this day, no holds were barred, all the best food and wine will be served, for this is a special occasion where family and relatives from far and wide get to come together to feast together, in preparation of ushering the new lunar calendar.
Fast forward to modern times, most Chinese still maintain this tradition of having reunion dinners with their family and relatives. Whichever country we are at, we will make time to come back and have that special meal with our family.
What goes on behind the scenes for preparation is an eye-opener for many young ones. On the morning of Chinese New Year eve, sometimes even before sunrise, our parents and grandparents will head on to the market (sometimes even a couple of weeks earlier!) to buy fresh ingredients that will make a good rhyming sound with prosperity, health, fertility and luck. For example, ingredients like prawns symbolises laughter, fish for bountiful wealth every year, meat – well, meat in the past symbolises the status of wealth in your family, and fatt choy – a kind of vegetable that sounds of wealth.
My family was very much the same when we were young. After mum and dad purchased ingredients, my mum and my “Ah Ma” (grandmother) will start cooking as early as 10 in the morning. They had to cook for at least 20 relatives! The meals were always delicious – the satisfaction in my mum and Ah Ma’s eyes were evident, however, so were their tiredness and exhaustion, not to mention all the cleaning up required after cooking.
In contemplation of the well-being for all our loving mothers (and fathers), here are 8 great ideas peppered with modern twists for your traditional Chinese New Year reunion dinner.
1. QUICK, HEALTHY AND DELICIOUS FRUIT SALAD YEE SANG
There is no CNY dinner if the first dish is not a Yee Sang. The usual Yee Sang is made from fried crackers, processed food, preservative and sugar. For a healthier option, why not try creating your very own Fruit Salad Yee Sang? It is simple to prepare (no cooking required!) and deliciously juicy to eat. This fantastic recipe is from noobcook.com, what’s great is that the author also included the meanings of every fruit used.
2. SIMPLE TO PREPARE ROASTED CHICKEN WITH STUFFING
This dish is an easy one – you only need time to prepare, thereafter, you can leave it alone in the oven to cook for about 1 ½ hours while you get yourself ready for the big reunion dinner. The recipe is from Jamie Oliver (well we did say modern twist), and it cooks for an Asian family of 6 (I’ve tried it and its an absolute hit!). For meals like this with stuffing, you can add anything you like into the chicken to bake.
3. SUCCULENT BBQ HONEY PORK RIBS
Pork ribs have been slowly but surely, making its way into the list of a modern reunion CNY dish. Almost every restaurant will present this dish on their CNY menu, simply because its delicious and very presentable. Similar to our roast chicken recipe, this time, you only need to allow the pork ribs to simmer for about 1 ½ hours, freeing up your time to handle other matters. This hybrid braise-and-grill recipe from Bee Leng even made it to the newspapers!
4. DRINK UP PROSPERITY AND GOLD WITH PINEAPPLES AND ORANGES
Every meal needs a good drink. Rather than the usual Chinese tea, you can try this simple and delicious recipe. The golden orange colour looks good too for Chinese New Year mood! Simply blend pineapple and oranges, and add in vodka if preferred. Top them off with berries, cherries or sliced oranges and voila!
5. POTLUCK – ALL FAMILIES GET TO COOK!
Cooking is rewarding, but it is also tiring if one person is to cook for the many family members. In this modern age, the best way is simply to delegate and cooperate! Every family member need only contribute and whip up one of their best dishes (or you can always buy one dish from the many restaurants outside) – with several main dishes and some desserts, the family reunion dinner is on!
6. DIY STEAMBOAT – SELF-SERVE OVER HOTPOT
For the modern family, steamboat is actually a pretty easy process, from preparation to its conclusion. All you need are fresh ingredients, and the meal will definitely be a success. Get a large pot (enough for your family), and an induction cooker or a portable gas stove. Alternatively, you can even use rice cooker as the pot to do your steamboat. The fun thing about this is even the young ones can do their part of “cooking” for their parents to eat. Talk about filial piety!
7. BARBEQUE – FIERY MEAL FOR A FIERY NEW YEAR!
Yes – hot and sweaty, this is for the fiery hot-hearted celebrators who do not mind too much of heat. If you can pull this off however, I bet this would be the best reunion dinner for sure. Not only can you eat and play with fire (literally), the outdoor nature of this reunion dinner creates a warm and natural ice-breaking session for the young relatives that rarely meet up. Even better, as with most barbeques, the dads will be the busy ones cooking! Rest up mums!
8. A BUFFET FEAST FIT FOR A KING
Unlike the traditional reunion sit-down and be-served dinner, a buffet dinner for CNY is actually very enjoyable. Not only will you be served by great chefs, fresh and beautifully palette food, you get to eat an endless flow of delicious food (think oysters and sashimi!), and a full course meal from appetiser to desserts. Best of all, nobody will chase you to quickly finish your dinner or have someone stand behind you waiting for your table!
May you have an enjoyable reunion dinner! Happy Chinese New Year!