Happy New Year!

rice-cake

Rice Cake. This cake takes many forms, but the key ingredient is glutinous (sweet) rice, pounded and made into a cake. Ours were sliced and topped with toasted sesame seeds.

Celebrating Chinese New Year

Story and photography by Joe Laedtke

2017 ushers in the year of the Fire Rooster, and January 28 will mark the changing of the guard—out with 2016’s Fire Monkey, and in with the crow of everyone’s favorite feathered alarm clock.

Last year, we were invited to a Chinese New Year dinner at Meiji Cuisine in Waukesha and treated to an astounding spread of delectable Chinese delicacies, hospitality in abundance and a lesson in Chinese culture, to boot. Despite the fact that Meiji is a Japanesestyle steakhouse, owners Cai and Amy are Fujian, hailing from China’s Southeast coast, about 500 miles south of Shanghai.

Chinese traditionally return home for the New Year festivities—these are typically the busiest travel days of the year. Nomads from around the globe come in throngs to the dense ordered chaos of Beijing and Guangzhou, and to countless villages and communities in this country of 1.4 billion. The holiday revolves around reunion, the themes of wealth, good fortune, health and ancestry. Elaborate decorations festoon even the most modest of homes, and gifts of money are exchanged in red envelopes.

Food takes center stage in welcoming in a fresh start. Join us and visually sample a few symbolic dishes.

Dumpling Dumplings are a group effort, and naturally a welcome part of the Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner. Everyone in the family pitches in to roll, fill, fold and steam these pouches of savory satisfaction.

Dumpling. Dumplings are a group effort, and naturally a welcome part of the Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner. Everyone in the family pitches in to roll, fill, fold and steam these pouches of savory satisfaction.

Lettuce Cup Crisp iceberg lettuce filled with fiery and smoky stir fried spring onion, bean curd and minced meat. The contrast of flavors, textures and temperatures harkens forth good fortune in the coming year.

Lettuce Cup. Crisp iceberg lettuce filled with fiery and smoky stir fried spring onion, bean curd and minced meat. The contrast of flavors, textures and temperatures harkens forth good fortune in the coming year.

Mushroom With Pork Pork dumplings with baby bok choy and mushrooms represent an abundant harvest.

Mushroom With Pork. Pork dumplings with baby bok choy and mushrooms represent an abundant harvest.

seafood-in-pineapple

Seafood in Pineapple. Cai’s special dish of seafood and vegetables in a hollowed out pineapple shows the multiple levels of significance dishes often express. Here, it’s a ship (smooth sailing), the bounty of wealth and also, good fortune.

Fried Fish With Sweet-Sour Sauce Cai enjoyed explaining this dish—not actually squirrel fish in species, but because it looks like a flying squirrel after cooking. Scored, deep fried and smothered in sweet and sour sauce, the name means “Every year, more than the last.”

Fried Fish With Sweet-Sour Sauce. Cai enjoyed explaining this dish—not actually squirrel fish in species, but because it looks like a flying squirrel after cooking. Scored, deep fried and smothered in sweet and sour sauce, the name means “Every year, more than the last.”

 

Where Are the Moon Cakes?!

mooncake
Linda Wolk, event planner for the Group for Chinese Business and Culture, helped explain moon cakes—and why they don’t play a role in Chinese New Year. “The moon cake is an important part of the Mid-Autumn Festival in China. This is a harvest festival that coincides with the full moon, usually falling between late September and early October. Moon cakes are typically filled with a sweet bean paste and might have a salted duck egg yolk hidden inside to represent the full moon.”

We talked to Xin Feng Chen from Lucky Bakery and BBQ in West Allis, one of the few Chinese Bakeries in Wisconsin, about her moon cakes. She told us to mark our calendars now, as they often sell out for the day shortly after opening, and that moon cake mavens from Chicago will drive up just for the intricate treat.

JoeLaedtkeJoe Laedtke is born and raised Milwaukee. A native of the ‘Heights, he loves all the tucked away secrets this awesome city holds. When he’s not cleaning up the path of destruction his cat leaves in his wake, he’s strapped to half a dozen cameras, consuming mass quantities of Cantonese food, or both.

 

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