Chinese New Year 4721 (2023)

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)The two-week long Chinese celebration of the Lunar New Year begins on Sunday – it’s 4721, the Year of the Rabbit. The Rabbit is known for a myriad of characteristics depending upon where you do your research: it symbolizes elegance, beauty, gentleness, alertness, kindness, patience, longevity, positivity, cautiousness, cleverness, and speed to name but a few, but when I read that the rabbit is known to be the luckiest of the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac I decided to stop there because if we need anything right now, it’s got to be luck.

One of the traditions that make this holiday so extraordinary is the way in which wordplay and homophones factor into the selection of traditional foods specially prepared to mark the occasion. For example, at festive gatherings a whole fish will be served, because the word for fish (yu) is a homophone for surpluses.

Since I haven’t made this year’s celebratory feast yet, here’s photo of last year’s whole steamed fish stuffed with ginger and scallions and bedecked with even more julienned fresh ginger, scallions, chives, and cilantro for the centerpiece. Accompanying the star of the show were snow peas and black mushrooms in black bean sauce, and char siu fried rice (homemade char siu, to be sure) all featuring a host of traditional ingredients.

And speaking of being lucky, there was a time a few zodiac signs ago that it looked like my Lunar New Year luck had run out in terms of another one of its traditional foods. It was a mystery involving a particular nian gao (the traditional sweet rice cake and a homophone for high year) that resonates to this day.

Want to know what happened? Please read my tradition-packed short story, “The Case of the Uncrackable Case!”

🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧
新年快乐! Xīnnián kuàilè!
恭喜发财! Gong hei fat choy!
🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧🧧
 
 

Yin Ji Chang Fen – 2022

Getting out and about again and spending a lot of time in Manhattan’s Chinatown of late so I revisited Yin Ji Chang Fen, the rice noodle roll chain from Guangzhou, China, located at 91 Bayard Street.

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Dining outdoors this time (because COVID), I decided to test the waters with something plain and something fancy, so here’s Peanut Sauce Rice Noodle Roll for guests who join me on my Chinatown food tour that want to stay within their comfort zone…


…and Pork Kidney with Chives Rice Noodle Roll – because that’s the way I roll! 🙄 (Eye roll – see what I did there?)

And speaking of my Chinatown Manhattan ethnojunket, there’s one boarding on Wednesday, September 21. (What an amazing coincidence!) Get the details here!
 
 

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival – 2022

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A visit to any Chinatown bakery this time of year will reveal a spectacular assemblage of mooncakes (月餅, yue bing) in a seemingly infinite variety of shapes, sizes, ornamentation, and fillings, all begging to be enjoyed in observance of the Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated this year on September 10. Here are two pandan mooncakes, one with preserved egg yolk and a mini version without, from Chinatown’s Fay Da Bakery.


And here’s one of my favorites, Five Mix Nut Moon Cake, from Golden Fung Wong Bakery at 41 Mott St – one of the stops on my Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunket, of course!

Since 2022 is the Year of the Tiger, known for his bravery and adventurousness but also for his impulsive unpredictability, I decided to purchase an assortment of these delicacies even if I was unable to identify every single one of them in the bakeries in order to compare them and ultimately share them, virtually, with you.

For a deep dive into the holiday and these delicious treats, you can get the skinny – er, poor choice of words there – in my Chinese Mooncakes Demystified page detailing their similarities and differences in an attempt to shed some light (moonlight, of course) on their intricacies.

中秋节快乐!
 
 

Chang Lai Cheung Fun

Rice Noodles kept warm in the kitchen in anticipation of hungry customers are readily found in Cantonese restaurants and dim sum parlors.

Rice Noodle Rolls, on the other hand, are frequently found in street carts, made fresh to order from (often stone ground) rice gruel ladled into a thin layer and steamed in a special multi-level cabinet. The snack is transliterated as Cheung (or Cheong) Fun (or Fan or Fen) – feel free to explore the permutations and combinations – but 腸粉 will get you 23,500,000 hits on Google and a typically frustrating translation of “Steamed Vermicelli Roll” on Google Translate.

I would attempt to describe the process, but fortunately we have local purveyors like Chang Lai Fishballs & Noodles on Grand St, east of Bowery, so since a video is worth a thousand pictures, here you go.

Fillings can include roast pork, fresh pork, shrimp, dried shrimp, beef, and more. In this case, here’s the menu from the side of the truck.

 
 

Bigger Snacks from Little Fuzhou

Following on the heels of my last post, Little Snacks from Little Fuzhou, we’re continuing on our journey along East Broadway; here are three more treats I spotted. Many of these snacks are based on sweetened lard; for some, it might be an acquired taste, but for me at least, it was easily acquired.

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Two of these were packed in a plastic clamshell; each is about four inches in diameter, sweet, chewy, and peanutty inside with a crisp outer shell.


In the shape of a block about 3½ inches on a side, this one was a good example of expecting a flavor profile based on how something looked and experiencing something completely unlike anything I had ever tried – so don’t judge a block by its color. It was midway between sweet and savory, soft but with crunchy elements, and shot through with nuts and dried candied fruit. Looks were indeed deceiving; worth a try.


These flaky (because of the lard in the dough), swirly treats were probably the best of this group: a hard shell enclosing a soft filling with nuts and dried fruit. (There’s a detectable but delectable theme here, right?)

There’s more to see on the Little Fuzhou leg of my Manhattan Chinatown food tour! Check out my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!
 
 

Little Snacks from Little Fuzhou

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Walk along East Broadway, the main drag through Chinatown’s Little Fuzhou, and it seems like every shop has a stoop line component spilling out onto the sidewalk – part of the characteristic charm of the neighborhood. Cases of wrapped goodies, some completely unidentified like the red block in the photo, beckon to knowledgeable passersby. Of course, my supremely knowledgeable Number One Spy knows the ins and outs of these treats, and she was more than helpful in making a positive ID.

These five are a representative sample of what I saw: the trio at roughly 10, 2 and 8 o’clock were filled with sweet, fruity, purple yam (red script), savory scallion (blue script), and salty meat floss/sweet bean (yellow script). (Trust me: these are so much easier to appreciate and disambiguate if you know what you’re eating!) The 4 o’clock position is occupied by a “pork floss muffin”, a bit better than its mate to the left. As to that incognito red block occupying center stage – ever had a crumbly Filipino polvorón made from powdered milk and toasted flour? This has the same sweet, powdery-in-a-good-way texture and in this case, the flavor is peanut. You buy any of these by the pound, and if the unmarked prices vary from one variety to the next, don’t fret, they’re close enough and the vendor will separate them for you.


The inner workings, so you can get an idea of the textures.

And yes, these babies (and some from the next post, “Bigger Snacks from Little Fuzhou”) are definitely on my Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunket!
 
 

Sun Hing Lung Ho Fun

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My Manhattan Chinatown Ethnojunket covers more than just the part of the neighborhood that some people envision when they hear the word “Chinatown”. Did you know there’s a Little Fuzhou right there waiting to be explored? My Number One Spy called my attention to “Sun Hing Lung Ho Fun”, a small, unprepossessing, mom-and-pop business at 58 Henry Street where the specialties are freshly prepared rice noodle rolls (cheung fun) and rice noodles.

I perused the rice rolls side of the menu and in addition to the usual pork, chicken, fish ball, beef and such, one described as Beef Brisket Rice Roll popped out. Perfectly seasoned, melt-in-your-mouth beef, it was a welcome change of pace from the usual.

Stay tuned for more treats from Little Fuzhou!
 
 

Yukun Shaobing

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A favorite stop along my “Snacking in Flushing – The Best of the Best” ethnojunket is Landmark Quest Mall, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave, a diminutive food court that’s home to some outstanding vendors – proof positive that good things come in small packages.

Two enterprising women own and operate Yukun Shaobing, a tiny stall where they turn out at least 16 varieties of stuffed flatbreads that run the gamut of flavors from Pork and Chinese Cabbage to Spicy Squid to Cumin Lamb, representing favorites from multiple regions of China.

I won’t even tease you with my customary “will this be on our tour?” gambit; the answer is yes, of course it is, because these exquisite pockets of goodness are amazing!

Of course, you’ll have to take the tour to find out which ones we’ll be enjoying 😉 so check out my Ethnojunkets page and sign up to join in the fun!
 
 

My Chinatown Ethnojunket Video!

“Reels” (videos) are de rigueur these days on Social Media giants like Facebook and Instagram, so when in Rome, etc.

Here’s my entry into the competition for eyeballs, focused around my Manhattan Chinatown Ethnojunket:

Of course, since you’re reading this, you’re already on ethnojunkie.com, so please check out my food tours: visit my Ethnojunkets page to learn more and sign up to join in the fun!