Sunday was the first day of Chinese New Year. That reminded me of home since Vancouver has a huge Asian population and Chinese New Year is such a popular celebration. You'll hear people all over the place greeting each other with "Gung Hay Fat Choy!"- a wish for prosperity in the coming year - and see tons of red and gold decorations, red and gold being lucky colours in the Chinese culture.
On the weekend we had a meal in honour of the lunar new year with a few symbolic foods.
These scary creatures are marbled tea eggs, simmered in black tea leaves and five spice powder. They symbolize fertility. (No, no further plans in that area in case you were wondering!)
A big pile o' noodles for longevity
Fish cooked whole symbolizes togetherness and abundance
And roast duck brings happiness and fidelity
Almond cookies, sugared walnuts and dried fruit ensure a sweet start into the Year of the Pig.
Apologies for the crappy quality of the photos. These pictures are sort of reflecting the way I've been feeling lately - totally unfocused and a little bit surreal with all the colours slightly out of whack. Know the feeling? I'm hoping it'll pass soon. Actually, the way things have been going, I think I may just start my year all over again right now if it's OK with you.
Anyway, all this food got me to thinking about how much I used to enjoy exploring Chinatown in Vancouver. Here's part of a piece I wrote in 2005 about one of my favourite childhood food memories.
#3: The On-On Restaurant in Chinatown
I learned to use chopsticks at an early age.
As far as I know, San Francisco has the largest Chinatown in North America. Vancouver's Chinatown comes in a close second, which means that there are literally hundreds of good and not so good Chinese restaurants to choose from. Back when I was a child, we chose the On-On on Keefer Street. The restaurant itself was nothing to look at, quite the greasy spoon in fact. The food, however, was divine, and judging by the scads of Chinese patrons, fairly authentic. We’d go at least once a month, I’d say, and have a wonderful meal. I even had a birthday party there once, as I recall.
Usually we’d just ask the waiter to bring us what he thought we’d like and what really sticks out in my mind was their sweet and sour pork, a mostly westernized dish, but exotic enough to the young palate. The little bone-in morsels were covered in a sticky bright red sweet and sour sauce that we couldn’t get enough of. The fact that you got to spit something out onto your plate without getting yelled at made it even more fun for us kids.
Another thing I remember about our Chinese dinners out was my grandmother just being herself. Our Nonna (English, not Italian, but spent many years in Rome) could not go near a pair of chopsticks (usually her own, thankfully) without sticking them up her nose and letting them hang there for a few seconds, making her look like some kind of walrus gone wrong. She did this every time we went and my brothers and I were absolutely mortified. So much for being a fine English lady. Now we wish she was still around to embarass us.
Gung Hay Fat Choy, Nonna, wherever you are.