I asked some of my good Filipino-Chinese friends to celebrate the New Lunar Year with me by means of their treasured family recipes: dishes they customarily prepare and serve to promote prosperity and abundance in the year to come.
“A fish dish is normally prepared during the Chinese New Year,” said Rosalinda and Mona Chua of Little Store (source for all sorts of hard-to-find oriental ingredients and of home-cooked Chinese dishes, tel. 7219174, 7236881). “It symbolizes profit. The fish is never fully eaten, some should be left over, to ensure that the family will have good fortune, in excess, all through the year.”
The Chuas gave us the recipe of Fried Sweet Boneless Hito, an original recipe by the late Bartolome Chua, Rosalinda’s husband and Mona’s dad.
½ kg hito, head cut off and de-boned, cut in to three pieces
½ tbsp salt
2 tbsp rice wine
Marinate hito in wine and salt, 10 minutes
Dredge hito in cornstarch and deep fry.
For the seasoning sauce:
1 stalk leeks (pounded)
5 slices ginger (pounded)
¼ c soy sauce
¼ c sugar
½ tbsp sesame oil
1 c water
Combine ingredients, mix well.
Soak deep-fried hito in seasoning sauce for two minutes.
Remove hito and arrange on serving platter.
Take out leeks and ginger from sauce.
Heat sauce in a pan, thicken with cornstarch slurry.
Arrange hito on a platter, pour sauce over.
To garnish, sprinkle with 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds.
Good luck food
The Chuas were even kind enough to share their list of Chinese New Year Food. The list has guided them through the years in preparing the family’s New Year feast.
“Special emphasis is placed on the symbols represented by different foods,” said the Chuas.
Dumplings (jiao zi) are shaped like golden ingots, or yuan bao, which were used as money during the Ming Dynasty. Serving them brings the promise of wealth and prosperity. The more dumplings you eat, the more money you can make in the New Year.
Noodles/ misua—for long life
Hair seaweed (fat choy) with dried oysters (ho see)—they sound like the Chinese words for “wealth and good business.”
Lotus roots (lin ngau)—for abundance year after year
Lettuce, in Mandarin, sounds like “growing wealth.”
Lengua—when the pig’s tongue is served, it symbolizes “profit.”
Platter of five meats or vegetables—“Five Blessings of the New Year,” referring to longevity, riches, peace, wisdom, virtue
Fish—symbolizes a profitable year ahead.
Vegetables—freshness means lasting fortune.
Balls: Fish (yu-wan)/ meat (jou-wan)—the round shape of meat and fish balls symbolizes “reunion” and “togetherness.”
Radish/ Turnip Cake—Chinese for radish is tsai tou, which means “good omen.”
Poon Choi/ Big Bowl Feast—dish made of pork, chicken, beef, duck, prawns, tofu, abalone, dried mushrooms, Chinese radish, layered on top of one another, usually braised and served in a wooden bowl. Food in the bowl is shared, a communal activity, so dish promotes family relations.
Whole chicken with head and feet—boosts family togetherness, happiness.
Egg and spring rolls—shaped like gold bars, which connote wealth
Oranges, bamboo shoots and black moss seaweed—promotes wealth
Dried bean curd—happiness
Chinese garlic chives—promotes long life.
Lychee, nuts—promotes close family ties.
Pomelo—promotes abundance, prosperity, fertility and having more children.
Seeds, e.g. lotus or watermelon seeds—having many children
Tangerine citrus food—related to the mandarin orange and promotes good luck
Oysters, seaweed, abalone, and sea cucumber are added to the feast as symbols of good fortune.
Mona Chua emphasized that great care must be taken to serve food in even numbers to ensure unity and togetherness.
“Tita” Rosalinda Chua also taught me how to prepare Kim Hwa Chinese ham (the kind found along Echague in the ’60s) that she now sells; they hang like guitars in her stores.
First, she said, soak the Kim Hwa ham overnight in rice washing (it should be the first press of the rice, she emphasized). This takes away the smell, she explained.
Next day, put ham in a baking pan and pour enough pineapple juice to submerge it. Bake in an oven, 350°F, until ham is fork-tender.
Remove ham from juice and put on rack. Heavily sprinkle with sugar, bake again until sugar melts. Slice ham thinly and serve sandwiched on tasty bread.
For longevity, no New Year is complete without Cha Misua or Misua Guisado.
Vivian Go shared her husband Ramon’s family recipe. She said that the recipe is her mother-in-law’s, Lourdes Lim Go, passed on to her by her sister-in-law Nancy Yu from Singapore. And is really very good.
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
½ c each—carrots, chicharo, cabbage—julienne
4 pcs each dried Chinese mushroom and large Chinese dried scallop, soaked in water, separately
1 boneless chicken breast, sliced thinly
½ kg fresh sua he, peeled, marinated in 1 tbsp ginger juice
½ c thinly sliced fried shallot for garnish
¼ c each green onion and garlic peanuts
Hard boiled eggs, garnish
2 tsp siao shing
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp oyster sauce
½ tsp white pepper
3-4 c native chicken stock
In a pot combine one whole native chicken and five cups water with one sliced carrot, one leek and two slices ginger. Simmer over low fire for 1 ½ hours.
1 pack misua, the one with a chicken on the plastic bag
In a wok, put a little oil and sauté garlic, add carrots, half cook carrots, remove and half cook cabbage.
Keep doing the same until you’ve half-cooked the chicharo, chicken and shrimps.
Add a little oil on wok, sauté sliced mushroom and shredded scallop, add few cups of chicken stock, let it boil.
On another wok, cook misua al dente, drain and transfer it to the boiling stock.
Add chicken, then the shrimp then the vegetables last, doing so one at a time.
Add seasonings and adjust to taste.
Finish with a drizzle of sesame oil.
Transfer to a serving dish and garnish sliced hard boiled eggs, fried shallots, peanuts, wansoy or green onion.