A while ago I wrote about the woes of planning for this year’s (2021) Lunar New Year celebrations all by my lonesome, some hundreds of miles away from home, no thanks to the global pandemic that simply refuses to pass (much like your creepy uncle-twice-removed that just won’t leave you alone during the festivities, constantly spewing sexist, misogynistic, or simply harassing comments).
As the weeks and days closed upon the auspicious new lunar year, I found myself scrambling to get my affairs in order. I’m not one to make lavish meals or dishes in my daily life — I’m more of a one pot wonder type of cook. Friends have shamed me for my utter ignorance and lack of essential cooking sauces that every Chinese household ought to have in their pantry.
I’ve even embarrassed myself with a pathetic retort, claiming my one bottle of 2-year-old light soy sauce was all I needed, and was met with fits of laughter masked in sympathy for my ineptitude in culinary arts.
Nonetheless, celebrating my first Lunar New Year away from family and friends, on a different continent and country, I determined to prove my capabilities not only in the kitchen, but in honouring my cultural heritage and traditions.
Pick Your Battles
While it may be terrifying attempting to live up to expectations and traditions, if it’s your first celebration away from family, cut yourself some slack.
That specialty regional dish that grandma wheels out once a year might be too difficult to master for those (like myself) who struggle to fry an egg without setting the kitchen on fire. If you’re confident enough at attempting it (and certain you won’t be a fire hazard, I say go for it! Prepare your ingredients in advance, and if possible, do a trial run before the Lunar New Year. That way, you’ll be certain what you’re serving up won’t result in food poisoning or a trip to the ER.
My family whips up some Chinese-style fried pork chops during the Lunar New Year, a recipe that my Mother claims was passed down generations, traced back to my Chinese ancestors. They’re relatively easy to make, and I’ve tried them myself several times, when nostalgia hits hard.
As for the hand made dumplings I loved as a child (thank you grandma and grandpa), I’ll have to skip them this year, unless I want to be eating a gloopy mess of half cooked pork with dough wrapping melting off the filling.
Same goes for the ubiquitous pineapple tarts. I skipped the baking entirely for fear of burning the dough, and picked a box off a shelf from an asian grocer. Sure, they wouldn’t taste exactly like home, but close enough!
Or make a reservation at a restaurant. Sure, there would be some form of “holiday” surcharge, but at least you’ll be well fed, and no kitchen will be burned down.
Pick your battles.
Setting The Tone
Trust me, nothing screams festival like some cheap, store bought decorations that you could use again next year. Slap on a couple of festival decorations and you’ll almost feel like you’re back home (pre-pandemic times), soaking in the festivities. If you can’t find any at the local Chinatown or asian grocer, make your own.
If you really suck at it like I do, then perhaps a kind neighbour would give you one of theirs. After all, it’s all about that holiday spirit!
Make It Your Own
Regardless of whether you’ll be celebrating this Lunar New Year with family, friends, on on your own, make it your own. No time like the present to shine. Take pride in what you believe in, what you can achieve, and appreciate the little things.
This year’s reunion dinner for me would probably be the smallest, most curtailed dinner I’ve had, but still with a little taste of home, however small it may be.
Remember, you’re not alone, and with the pandemic still looming over our heads, celebrations around the world are still subdued. Take my home country for instance, where the list of rules go on and on. My favourite: no shouting during the prosperity toss/lo hei.
Besides, you can always ring up mum and dad and have them show you around the dinner table, while you sit in the dark, in solitude with a hot steaming pile of Macca’s chicken nuggets.
Happy lunar new year, everyone. 新年快乐。