This is the first time I’ve ever been in Beijing during Chinese New Year! (Except for when I lived here as a little girl, that is.) During the week of Chinese New Year, the city empties as the transplants all return to their hometowns, the usual horrendous traffic disappears, and for these few days, Beijing belongs only to the local Beijingers.
Truthfully, I never really realized what a huge deal CNY is. Growing up in America, this holiday is not recognized and so it has always just quietly passed by without fanfare. There was never decorations or days off school/work or a big dinner.
So how does this side of the world celebrate Chinese New Year? Well, for one, everybody gets the entire week off of work. Then, the week is spent visiting various family members. And of course, like any good holiday, you can be assured that there will be a lot of eating.
Chinese New Year is not complete without a family feast, and so on Wednesday night (day three of CNY), we all went out for dinner. We went with my immediate family and my aunt’s family, whom I haven’t seen since I was little. We went to a restaurant very close to my uncle’s place. My aunt and uncle ordered the traditional New Years set meal, and little did I know just how huge of a feast it would be.
I know this is a restaurant that nobody who reads this blog will go, as it’s located waaaay out in the suburbs of Beijing… but I just want to show you guys what a Chinese New Years feast is like and to make you drool a little. ;) I hope you won’t mind just a bunch of pictures of food with minimal descriptions.
We started with thin beef slices with a vinegar chili dip (酱香牛肉):
And gigantic pork meatballs (四喜丸子). Each one is as big as a fist!
Smoked fish (杭帮熏鱼):
Pork hind quarter (东坡全肘). This was super chopstick-tender and so juicy.
Pork trotters (老烫酱猪手), which I politely refused. I cannot get past the thick gelatinous texture.
And a few veggie dishes to be somewhat healthy: a cold spinach salad (果仁菠菜), garlic broccoli (蒜茸西兰花), and corn with pine nuts (松仁玉米).
And of course, the traditional plate of dumplings. Beijingers will always celebrate the New Year with dumplings.
Spicy crispy chili shrimp（香酥海白虾):
Pork belly sliders (梅菜扣肉)！This is one of my favorites! Soft juicy slices of fatty pork belly with preserved veggies, to be sandwiched in between a fluffy steamed bun.
Pace yourself and hold on to your stomachs… we’re barely even halfway through!
This dish (老北京爆三样) that turned out to be pork liver (not a very pleasant surprise, but not entirely unpleasant either) with long beans and woodear mushroom:
Sweet lotus root with sticky rice (桂花羺米藕). This is one of my favorites as well!
Like most Chinese feasts, you gotta have a whole steamed fish (清蒸鱼) with the face and bones and all. I’m not sure what kind of fish this is but maybe someone else can tell me.
This one is called “seafood family fortune” (海味全家福). It’s basically just a mish-mash of random things: fish balls, squid, quail eggs, and random veggies.
Tender beef strips with mushrooms and bell peppers (杏鲍菇牛柳):
And finally, the star of the meal: traditional Beijing roast duck!
I already wrote a more detailed post about how to eat roast duck (when I ate at Da Dong, Beijing’s most famous roast duck restaurant), so I won’t elaborate too much here anymore. Here, it was done the same way with the bird brought out to be carved tableside.
First the crispy skin was carefully carved and placed on a plate. This should be eaten by itself or dipped into sugar if you want (sounds weird but they go really well together). The skin should be placed inside the mouth and allowed to naturally melt. This is SO good!
The meat is cut next, and this can be eaten with the wrappers and the variety of condiments, burrito style. Even though I was already full by this point, I still managed to find room for make four little wraps. ;)
Beijing roast duck is one of my favorite food items from my home city, and the one here was perfectly juicy and succulent. It may not be as pretty or refined as Da Dong, but still hella satisfying! Maybe even more so.
I couldn’t believe how many dishes there were for just the 9 of us… but we’re still not done yet! In fact, there were so many dishes that the waitstaff even forgot about some. At the very end, they finally brought these out, most of which went straight into takeaway boxes:
Beef with egg flower soup (西湖牛肉羹):
Fried rice (this made a very good breakfast the next morning):
Arugula and walnut salad with vinagrette (核仁拌苦菊). This one was delicious!
And Chinese cabbage cooked in chicken broth soup (上汤娃娃菜):
Phew! This is the end of the food. Here’s picture of our group, minus me, as I was the photographer (a very bad one apparently, since I cut off half of my mom’s face).
Fun anecdote time: the lady sitting next to my mom is her childhood best friend. They lived upstairs and downstairs from each other in the same apartment building. A couple of years later, my mom’s family moved away but the two friends kept in touch. One day, years later still, they decided it would be fun to become family and discreetly introduced their younger brother and younger sister to each other, who did hit it off and later married (3rd & 4th in the picture). The two families have been tight ever since. :)
The total cost of this feast?? A mere 888RMB, or US $135!! (888 is considered to be a lucky number in Mandarin because it sounds like “make a fortune”.) This is a complete steal, if you ask anyone. I don’t even know how the restaurant is making money at this point! We also took home about 12 boxes of leftovers between our two families.
Good food, stuffed bellies, and reuniting with family… all in all, I declare this a very successful Chinese New Year!
Do you celebrate CNY? How did you celebrate?