The Chinese New Year's Eve feast Ching-He Huang planned for her upcoming Cooking Channel special is less a menu than what she calls a blueprint. It's a sensible approach to the task of transcribing a storied tradition like a Chinese N.Y.E. dinner. After all, Huang faced a range of possible interpretations -- varying first in region then among families -- for each precept that guides a particular dish. Turn the page for her suggestions for how to prepare your own feast this Saturday evening.
"It was tricky because we wanted to make sure there was something for everyone. At the end of the day, if I thought about it too much, I would just not do it," she said.
Huang focused instead on capturing the spirit of the holiday with dishes that are fairly simple to make, but lost none of the symbolism. Covering as much ground as she has in her international upbringing, Huang's sense of Chinese New Year tradition is conversely rooted in happy memories of Pai He, Taiwan. She recalled waiting on the cart attached to the back of her grandfather's moped, when Huang was four or five, as her grandmother spent hours at the local market in pursuit of the best ingredients.
As much culinary symbolism as Chinese New Year can hold, she learned while watching her maternal grandparents painstakingly prepare for the holiday feast that none is as potent as its power to bring family together. This early lesson instilled an appreciation of the rituals as more reflective of an ideological frame than a set of exacting rules. While she can speak at length about the rituals, the holiday at its essence remains for Huang about family and personal reflection.
"It's my favorite time of the year, because you look back and you think about what you'd want your next year to be. It's a time when you prepare for your best. It's a chance to regroup. That's why I think the food and everything associated with Chinese New Year is so special," she explained.
For your own Chinese New Year's Eve celebration on Saturday, Feb. 9, Huang shared a range of tips on translating some of the traditional tenets tied to the holiday, including:
On the outlook
Ching-He Huang: "It's a time when you prepare for your best. So clear out everything. Spruce up the house. Get the most amazing flowers. Dress your best. Live the next year how you want it to be. It's about bringing together all of the traditions in order to help you realize that."
On the decorations
CHH: "You get orchids because it symbolizes beauty and fertility; gladiolas because it symbolizes strength and rising above the ranks; mandarin oranges because it symbolizes bounty and plentitude. Everything is gold and red. Red is so auspicious and a lucky color; and gold because you want prosperity in the new year."
Turn the page for a list of Huang's ideas on Chinese New Year's Eve feast essentials.