Year of the Rabbit
The Lunar New Year represents the start of the lunar calendar based on the cycles of the moon, centering around traditions and foods passed down through the centuries. Many celebrate Lunar Year in their own unique way including Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, East Asians and Middle Eastern cultures. In Chinese culture, the Lunar New Year represents the most important holiday of the year, signifying the end of winter and the start of spring, with original ties to agriculture. Farmers would take this time to rest before preparing to plant new seeds, thanking the gods for last years harvest and asking for protection over next years crops.
The Lunar New Year consists of a sixteen day celebration focused on food and family where food has deep symbolic representation. Food denotes offerings to gods and ancestors asking for certain protections and prosperities. A place is saved at the table for relatives who have passed, a tradition from the old legend of the festival’s origin, where villagers prepared feasts for the gods in hopes of being spared the wrath of a mythological monster Nian. The celebration begins this year on January 22nd and culminates with a lantern festival on February 5th. Also part of the celebration is the “little year,” aka “festival of the kitchen god”, which resonated with us as we spend a lot of time in our kitchen. The legend states that the Jade Emperor will examine each family members behavior over the past year to decide if a reward or punishment is bestowed upon their family. This represents, a kind of “a day of reckoning”, or “judgement day”, encouraging all to do good everyday. Many families burn paper images of the god to send his spirit into heaven and then install his new image next to the stove in hopes of welcoming him back in the new year.
Although individual customs can be slightly different, the mainstay dishes served around this time are symbols for characteristics desired in the coming year. The Lunar New Year table typically consists of spring rolls, dumplings, steamed fish and the important noodles. Other important representatives found on the table are brightly-colored citrus fruits, believed to bring good luck and happiness, along with red envelopes filled with money, symbolizing good wishes and luck. You will always find tea at the table for its potential to clear ones mind and integrity. Spring rolls are one of the most important foods in the Lunar New Year celebration, (aka Spring Festival), and named for this important holiday title. Spring rolls represent wealth and prosperity and families all have their own renditions of this important dish that have been passed down for generations. Spring rolls are typically eaten at the start of the meal and consist of meat and vegetables, most often pork and cabbage wrapped in a flour skin. These rolls can also be made into sweet offerings to enjoy at the end of a meal and filled with sweet red bean paste, cream or ice cream, then fried, paradoxically, into a crunchy confection. Bex Kitchen is known for spring rolls along with Chicken Shumai, (steamed dumplings) consisting of ground pork or shrimp paired with Napa cabbage and Asian spices. Both of these items are typically seen on Bex appetizer menu.
Dumplings at this celebration represent wealth to families as they are shaped like a coin. They are an important food at this time as the legend dictates that the number of dumplings you consume during Lunar New Year predicts the amount of money bestowed in the new year. Noodles are the next important food featured during this celebration as the long length of the noodle represents long life. Noodle dishes can be served hot or cold with a variety of different spices and flavor additions including served in warming broth. Steamed fish is served as the main meal symbolizing wealth and surplus. Even the smallest of children partake in savoring all of these dishes carrying on traditions and customs through the generations.
Hot Pot is a large part of Chinese culture and the new year foods, and is similar to fondue, where vegetables and meats are cooked in a large pot of boiling broth. Bex Kitchen does its own rendition of a Hot Pot; they call it Pho station. A Pho station is a build-your-own soup that the eater customizes with a dizzying array of noodles and healthy additions including rice noodles, lime wedges, onion, bean sprouts, cilantro, sliced carrot, and more. Learn more about Pho on the Bex blog here.
This year’s Lunar New Year zodiac sign is that of the rabbit, marking a transition between the year of the tiger in 2022 and this Lunar New Year. Chef Becky had previously reinvented a classic cocktail called The Jack Rabbit, consisting of applejack (apple based spirits), lemon juice and local “bee-tanical” honey from the Lavender Fig, served up in a glass or on the rocks. If you haven’t tried the Lavender Fig honey you are in for a treat. They offer seasonal honey which assimilates various flavors, colors and attributes of each season, a fantastic way to enjoy a slightly different variation of this cocktail at different periods of time throughout the year. Applejack is used in this cocktail for it’s deep link to New Jersey’s agricultural roots connected to apples & peach orchards that grow in our region of New Jersey.
We hope you are inspired to try some of your own iterations for this Lunar New Year whether they be spring rolls, dumplings, noodles or a refreshing Jack Rabbit cocktail.
Xīnnián kuàilè (Happy New Year)