Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. In China, it is known as “Spring Festival,” the literal translation of the Chinese name 春節 (Pinyin: Chūn Jié), since the spring season in Chinese calendar starts with lichun, the first solar term in a Chinese calendar year. It marks the end of the winter season, analogous to the Western carnival. The festival begins on the first day of the first month (Chinese: 正月; pinyin: Zhēng Yuè) in the traditional Chinese calendar and ends with Lantern Festival which is on the 15th day. Chinese New Year’s Eve, a day where Chinese families gather for their annual reunion dinner, is known as Chú Xī (除夕) or “Eve of the Passing Year.” Because the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, the Chinese New Year is often referred to as the “Lunar New Year“.
Chinese New Year is the longest and most important festivity in the Chinese calendar. The origin of Chinese New Year is itself centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and traditions. Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations, such as Mainland China, Hong Kong,Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines,Singapore,Taiwan, Thailand, and also in Chinatowns elsewhere. Chinese New Year is considered a major holiday for the Chinese and has had influence on the lunar new year celebrations of its geographic neighbors, as well as cultures with whom the Chinese have had extensive interaction. These include Koreans (Seollal), and Bhutanese (Losar), Mongols (Tsagaan Sar), Vietnamese(Tết), and the Japanese before 1873 (Oshogatsu).
This year is the year of the Snake under the Chinese calendar. More specifically, 2013 marks the year of the Water Snake (thank you, Wikipedia!):
In Chinese culture, years of the snake are sixth in the cycle, following the Dragon Years, and recur every twelfth year. The Chinese New Year does not fall on a specific date, so it is essential to check the calendar to find the exact date on which each Snake Year actually begins. Snake years include: 1905, 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, and 2025. The 12 “zodiacal” (that is, yearly) animals recur in a cycle of sixty years, with each animal occurring five times within the 60 year cycle, but with different aspects each of those 5 times. Thus, 2013 is a year of the yin water snake (or, serpent), and actually starts on February 10, 2013 and lasts through January 30, 2014. The previous year of the yin water snake was 1953.
In Thai culture, the year of the snake is instead the year of the little snake, and the year of the dragon is the year of the big snake.
According to one mythical legend, there is a reason for the order of the 12 animals in the 12 year cycle. The story goes that a race was held to cross a great river, and the order of the animals in the cycle was based upon their order in finishing the race. In this story, the snake compensated for not being the best swimmer by hitching a hidden ride on the horses hoof, and when the horse was just about to cross the finish line, jumping out, scaring the horse, and thus edging it out for sixth place.
The same 12 animals are also used to symbolize the cycle of hours in the day, each being associated with a two-hour time period. The “hour” of the snake is 9:00 to 11:00 a.m., the time when the sun warms up the earth, and snakes slither out of their holes.
The reason the animal signs are referred to as “zodiacal” is because a person’s personality is said to be influenced by the animal sign(s) ruling the time of birth, together with elemental aspect of that animal sign within the sexegenary (60 year) cycle. Similarly, the year governed by a particular animal sign is supposed to be characterized by it, with the effects particularly strong for people who were born in a year governed by the same animal sign.
Given that my Chinese zodiac symbol is the Snake, I’m hoping that this will be an auspicious year for me and my beloved.
Often, whenever Chinese New Year rolls around, I give my hand at trying some kind of new (for me to make, anyway) Chinese recipe, or making something that I don’t usually make.
This year, one of the things I decided to make was some Baked Crab Rangoon. I’d first made this delicious, easy recipe a couple of years ago. This recipe is from a Chinese Favorites cooking magazine.
Is Crab Rangoon authentic Chinese food? As Wikipedia tells us, it’s not likely:
Crab rangoon has been on the menu of the “Polynesian-style” restaurant Trader Vic’s in San Francisco since at least 1956. Although the appetizer is allegedly derived from an authentic Burmese recipe, the dish was probably invented in the U.S.A. A “Rangoon crab a la Jack” was mentioned as a dish at a Hawaiian-style party in 1952, but without further detail, and so may or may not be the same thing.
Crab rangoon is an appetizer in American Chinese cuisine of North America. Though the history of crab rangoon is unclear, cream cheese, like other cheese, is essentially nonexistent in Southeast Asian and Chinese cuisine, so it is unlikely that the dish is actually of east or southeast Asian origin. In North America, crab rangoon is served often with soy sauce, plum sauce, duck sauce, sweet and sour sauce, or mustard for dipping.
Their lack of authenticity doesn’t make them any less delicious!
I’ve tried a few different versions of Crab Rangoon before discovering that this one is easy, yummy, and tasty. I’ve made this both with canned flaked crab and imitation flaked crab; both are delicious. Leftovers re-crisp well after a few minutes in the oven or toaster oven.
Regardless of their authenticity, I wish you a Happy New Year — Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin) and Gong Hey Fat Choy (Cantonese) — and a yummy New Year!
And remember — never pass up a reason to celebrate! (Go on, take 62 seconds out of your day and enjoy the video — you know you want to!)
Baked Crab Rangoon (Makes one dozen)
- 4 ounces reduced fat (Neufchatel) cheese (that’s 1/2 of an 8 ounce package), softened
- 1 can (6 – 6 1/2 ounces net weight, 4 – 4 1/2 ounces product weight) crab, drained and flaked OR 4 to 4 1/2 ounces imitation crab, flaked
- 2 or 3 green onions, sliced
- 1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise (such as Hellman’s) or salad dressing (such as Miracle Whip)
- 12 wonton wrappers
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a small bowl, mix together softened cream cheese, mayonnaise or salad dressing, drained and flaked crab, and green onions.
3. Lightly oil or spray 12 muffin cups. Gently place one wonton wrapper into each cup. Edges will extend beyond the sides of the cup.
4. Divide filling evenly among muffin cups. If desired, use two chopsticks (or a similarly shaped utensil) to gently shape each Crab Rangoon by pressing in slightly on opposite sides (rather as though you’re marking four points in a square), which gives them a bit of a flower shape.
5. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, until edges are golden brown and filling is heated through.
6. Refrigerate leftovers. Leftovers re-crisp nicely after a few minutes in a warmed oven or toaster oven.