The Eats World clan loves Chinese New Year. There’s eating, dancing, eating, music, eating, fireworks, eating, parades, eating, family, eating, colourful rituals and eating. What’s not to like?
Chinese New Year celebrations run from the first day of the first month of the Chinese Calendar, a date that changes each year as the Chinese use the Lunar calendar for their festivals. Secretly I think it also changes to confuse dim-witted Westerners like myself. Incidentally I was actually born on Chinese New Year, many, many, many moons ago but sadly my auspicious birth date did not come with an understanding of the inner workings of the lunar calendar by osmosis.
The annual celebrations are also based around a specific animal. Legend has it the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac were chosen by Buddha, and that people born in each animal’s year would take on the characteristics of said critter. The accuracy of this theory is quite debatable given that according to this astrology I am a ‘dog’. Now, I cannot deny that this is a moniker I have been called more than once in my lifetime, but you’re unlikely to find me peeing on car tires or sniffing random bottoms… but I digress.
The Eats Worlds spent the weekend slithering into Sydney’s Chinatown for fun and feasting to celebrate The Year of the Snake at the Chinese New Year Market. I must say, the Chinese certainly know how to throw a NYE bash! Though given they’ve had about 3,000 years of practice, so they should!
The market is flamboyant and colourful and Raffles and Sugarpuff joyfully join in the festivities… singing, dancing and stuffing their wee faces.
Raffles discovers his inner Vincent Vega as he gets down to the musical stylings of a Korean rock band.
While Sugarpuff channels an excitable Madame Butterfly…
They paint and play….
This cool chick even gets her first tattoo…
And they make offerings to the God of abundance…
It is a fun day, though Sugarpuff is a little disturbed by the unfortunate placement of some cute dough models…
And there’s more to come. The thing CNY has over its western equivalent is that the party goes on for about two whole weeks. Yee ha!
During those two weeks there is much feasting and offerings are made to appease the Kitchen God, Zao Jun, one of a plethora of Chinese domestic Gods and well, a bit of a snitch really.
It is said that in the days leading up to the Lunar New Year, the Kitchen God returns to heaven to narc on the good and bad deeds of each household to the Jade Emperor. Without his approval the entire family will suffer from bad luck for the year. In order that no unfavourable reports are passed on, families sweeten his lips with Nian Gao, a sticky sweet treat made of brown sugar and glutinous rice flour. If all else fails the Nian Gao should be sticky enough to gum up his gob so no dobbing can be done!
Now Nian Gao ain’t a pretty cake but the kids like it and, if (like me) you’re felling lazy and can’t quite be bothered making your own, you can pick one of the gooey goodies at just about any Chinese grocer at this time of the year.
For a chewier gooier treat, Mr East World and I prefer the glutinous cake sliced up, dipped in egg and fried. Yum.
Other good-luck foods designed to conjure success and prosperity that are favoured during the fortnight long bacchanal include long noodles, as they symbolize long life; whole fish, as the Chinese word for fish sounds similar to the word for abundance. (The fish should be served with the head and tail intact to ensure a good beginning and end to the year); and jiaozi (ingot-shaped pork dumplings) as they are said to bring wealth.
We are told by those in the know that Fa Gao (or Prosperity Cake), is another must for an auspicious year. Fa Gao is a steamed cupcake that forms “petals” during the steaming process. The more the petals that blossom, the more prosperous your year will be.
Raffles decides he’d like to try some “Fat Cow” and, as Google wisdom tells us that the recipe is pretty quick and simple, I suggest we go DIY and make our own.
“But where will we get a cow, mama?”
After a quick recap and explanation to my four-year old that these steamed cup cakes are actually bovine free, we practice our pronunciation and I explain that ‘Fa’ means to rise, which symbolises rising fortunes and ‘Gao’ is cake.
The Fa Gao we prepare are unapologetically inauthentic (we had no rice flour so substituted self-raising flour) but prove a cinch and make for a light and fluffy result with plenty of ‘petals’, ensuring us not only a prosperous Year of the Snake but a happy Raffles and Sugarpuff who both dig the blooming dessert.
Kung Hei Fat Choy!
Fa Gao (prosperity cakes)
¾ cup water
¼ cup coconut milk
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup coconut milk
1 cup of self-raising (or rice) flour
1 tsp baking powder
- Line 8 (an auspicious number) small ramekins with cupcake liners.
- In a bowl dissolve the brown sugar in the water and coconut milk.
- In another bowl combine the flour and baking powder.
- Slowly stir the dry ingredients in to the sugar mixture until combined.
- Divide up the batter evenly into the cupcake liners.
- Steam for 20-25 mins ensuring you don’t remove the lid from the steamer (not even for a peak) until the end as it will prevent the lucky petals from blooming.