Celebrating Chinese New Year 2014 – Year of the Horse

BLOEMFONTEIN – Growing up in South Africa, it has always been difficult to truly enjoy the entirety of this two-week celebration.

new year

Chinese New Year is an elaborate and festive holiday in Asia but here we hold rather modest celebrations. Ever since I left school I haven’t been able to celebrate with my whole family but in 2014, the Year of the Horse, all three kids (my sister Jasmine, my brother Frank and I) were able to go back to Bloemfontein to celebrate this festive occasion with our parents and our dog Pico.

My folks were ecstatic to have the whole family together, so as you can imagine, there was plenty of traditional food. And of course the traditional scented red envelopes, packed with money from the older generation.

Lin Family

Chinese New Year Dishes

Here are some of the dishes I had the luxury to enjoy over the Chinese New Year:

Stir-Fried Rice Noodles

One of my absolute favourite dishes my Mama makes. This time around my Mama used grated pumpkin, sliced shiitake mushrooms, pork strips and dried shrimp. It’s often eaten at Chinese New Year celebrations owing to the length of the noodles, symbolising longevity.

Stir Fried Rice Noodles

Buddha Jumps over the Wall

Traditionally this dish contained shark fin and abalone, but we had a simpler version. Our dish included quail eggs, Chinese cabbage, taro, pork tendon and shiitake mushrooms.

My Papa shared the story behind this dish with me: A scholar was travelling with a group by foot and preserved his food, which was high in protein and calcium, in a clay jar. Every time he had a meal, he’d heat up the contents in the jar over an open fire.

Once, they stopped to rest and the scholar warmed his clay pot. The fragrant scent of the meal travelled to a nearby Buddhist monastery and overwhelmed one of the meditating monks. The vegetarian monk was so tempted that he jumped over the wall.

Buddha Jumped over the Wall

Sweet Nian Gao (Rice Cakes)

The Chinese words “Nian Gao” directly translated means “Year Tall” – which symbolises having a better year than the previous one. This tasty morsel is made out of glutinous rice, which is gluten-free, until you add the flour and egg batter. The rice cake is often bought in a cake shape, then you cut it up so that you end up with thin slices to dip and fry.

Sweet nian gao

The story of Chinese New Year

Now centuries old, the story of the origins of the Chinese New Year vary, but the core denominator of the legend includes a mythical monster, terrible and feared by all the villagers.

This monster had the head of a proud lion, the body of a strong ox and resided in the ocean. The monster’s name was Nian (年) and it preyed on the locals.

On New Year’s Eve Nian would visit the land to prey on the locals, nearby animals and cause destruction and havoc in the villages.

The story also mentions an old man who advised the villagers to bring out and play their drums and set off firecrackers to scare away the monster.

He also told them that Nian feared the colour red, so the villagers hung up red scrolls, paper cut-outs and lanterns to ward it off. Nian was conquered and on the anniversary of this date the villagers always celebrated the passing of Nian.

The word Nian (年) means “year” in Chinese, and it’s also synonymous with the New Year’s festivities.

This was originally posted on eNCA as a featured post here.

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4 Responses

  1. Sharif Fakier
    | Reply

    Man! I must admit that you perpetuate a lot of the good traditions with admirable pride and decent honour.
    Nian sounds like a fantastic story but I also felt a little bit sorry for Nian when it is mentioned that the villagers celebrated his departure. But they were welcoming the Good News as well I suppose?

    Ming, I would like to get a chance to meet you because you sound genuine, sincere and true at heart. You also have a lot of knowledge and I think it would be nice to go on a tour to some of the best restaurants serving true Asian Cuisine.

    Keep writing

    • Ming-Cheau
      | Reply

      Thank you Sharif 🙂 Growing up in South Africa has been a bit difficult to stay true to my culture, but I suppose I am a hybrid now since I’ve spent my entire upbringing in SA. I appreciate the comment and hope to meet you in the future.

  2. Julian
    | Reply

    Hi Ming-Cheau, I just came across your site today and must say I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read thus far. I have been taking Mandarin on and off for the past few years with a great Laoshi and with his wife (Also from Bloemfontein) teaches us so many things of Chinese culture, traditions and food. My Mandarin is getting along really well but I still have a long way to go…..:-).

    • Ming-Cheau
      | Reply

      Thanks so much for the comment Julian 🙂 Really appreciate it. I hope to blog more often, and continue sharing fun stuff about Chinese and Taiwanese food, and the Asian culture.

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