Whee! Whee! Whee! Happy Year of the Dragon!
There’s really nothing not to like about this holiday: an excuse to eat wonderful food in fun surroundings, at its best, in a large group for a custom-made banquet and little tastes of lots and lots of things.
2011 was my lucky year, having been invited to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit in Chengdu, Szechuan Province, China. Szechuan peppercorns! Pandas!
My first dinner on arriving was in a cavernous restaurant full of families obviously enjoying themselves immensely. I was the only non-Asian in the room, and our dinner included 3 cold dishes: smoked salt and pepper rabbit*, shredded chicken in red oil, and watercress in Szechuan oil dressing; 4 hot dishes: leatherback turtle (an amazing gelatinous texture in a green herb sauce), frog in cellophane noodles, braised duck, and taro in a red broth; ending with seaweed and pork ribs soup and chive dumplings.
Whee! Whee! Whee!
*I’m still surprised that the Chinese zodiac honoree kept showing up on menus.
One family banquet included an incredible variety of 19 dishes with no two flavors or textures the same. Standouts were the best roast pigeon I have ever had anywhere, hairy crab in a zesty brown sauce on glutinous rice cakes, and skinless walnuts poached in wine and chicken stock with broccoli (my notes read: “stunning”).
Aside from the fabulous food, Chinese New Year is a time for incredible decorations, all in the motif of the New Year, in 2011, bunnies. Rabbits were everywhere you looked. Department stores appeared to be merchandising our Easter. Rabbit lanterns were ubiquitous, colorful pastels in daytime and strikingly lit after dark.
Every year miniature (and not so miniature) orange and tangerine trees decorate hotel lobbies, businesses and homes everywhere. The orange orbs are reminiscent of gold coins, a symbol of wealth and prosperity.
And then there were the fireworks. I was mesmerized by the displays, all put on by individuals or families, which lit the Chengdu skies for hours on end as far as the eye could see (and in the park adjacent to the high-rise where I was staying).
Wishing everyone a Delicious and Prosperous Year of the Dragon!