Happy Chinese New Year! It seems that I’ve been saying Happy New Year wrong for the past whatever years. Or, at least, not entirely right… Gung Hay Fat Choy – is Cantonese for wishing someone a prosperous new year. Cantonese is the language of Hong Kong and the surrounding area, but Mandarin is the predominant language of the mainland. In Mandarin, one says Gong Xi Fa Cai. And, technically, neither are wishing someone Happy New Year as we occidentals mean it. That would be Xīn Nián Kuài Lè – pronounced sseen nee-ahn kwhy luh in Mandarin. One is never too old to learn something new about a different culture.
The first time I actually remember Gung Hay Fat Choy was in Hong Kong when I was there for Chinese New Year back in 1973. I probably saw and heard it plenty of times in my youth, but a guy I worked with – a Hawai’ian named Nick – just kept repeating it over and over while we were there. He was one of four of us who rented a room at The Excelsior Hotel– then Hong Kong’s newest luxury hotel – for a week while we were in port. One of those indelible memories. I thought San Francisco had a wild Chinese New Year – it paled by comparison. Of course, I was 20 at the time. Thursday afternoons could be wild back in those days – and usually were if we were in port. And Hong Kong was definitely wild. Besides the obvious eating, drinking, and general debauchery, I had a set of gabardine dress blues made for me – talk about form-fitting. If I still had them, they wouldn’t fit this form, today, but they were pretty slick back then.
As I have said many times, cooking Chinese food is not really intuitive for me. I can make a reasonably decent dish, but I’m not going to be hired at the local Chinese restaurant any time soon.
That doesn’t stop me from making things, though – I just don’t pretend they’re even remotely authentic.
Like tonight’s noodle dish.
We have a packet of Hong Kong Noodles – made in Hong Kong – and thought I’d do a noodle dish of sorts. I get confused with chow mein, lo mein, chow fun, et all. One is cooked noodles, one is noodles with sauce… rice noodles vs wheat noodles… It’s all rather daunting.
I took ground pork – it’s the Year of the Pig – and marinated it in hoisin sauce, sambal oelek, soy sauce, black vinegar, ginger, sesame oil, and rice wine.
I fried it up in a large skillet, and then added onions, red bell pepper, celery, carrots, water chestnuts, and green onions. I added a splash of chicken broth and a drizzle of rice wine, and then thickened it with cornstarch. Finally, I stirred in the cooked noodles and some bean sprouts.
On the side were pork pot stickers, pork shu mai, and chicken egg rolls with a dipping sauce of ketchup, soy sauce, sambal oelek, and sesame oil.
It was an occidental homage to an oriental celebration.