Sunday marked the first day of the Chinese - or Lunar - New Year. Happy Year of the Dog!
It was also supposed to be the day of the re-design launch. But last week I had a catastrophic loss of data. Therefore, the re-design has been delayed.
However, I was extraordinarily lucky enough to celebrate with my family in Chicago. My mother made one of her signature dishes - Buddha Jumps the Wall.
It's a legendary Chinese feast dish supposedly so enticing that Buddha himself would jump a wall at its mere aroma - and presumably break his vegetarian vows for a taste. The origin of this dish is shrouded in mystery. It's widely believed to have come from the 2,000 year-old southeastern port city Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province - home to one of the major styles of Chinese cuisine.
You may recall a classic version of this dish - considered a soup really, made with shark's fin - in food news last year. It was billed as the world's most expensive bowl of soup - one bowl for £108, about $200 - served at Kai, a Chinese restaurant in London.
The New Year holiday actually lasts 15 days, feuled with foods chock full of symbolism and expensive ingredients as hopeful harbingers of good fortune.
My mother doesn't use shark's fin in her version, not for idealogical reasons, but simply because that's not how she learned to make it from her paternal grandmother in neighboring Guangdong province. Her version features fot choy as one of its rare and auspicious elements. The Cantonese New Year greeting "Gung Hay Fot Choy!" essentially translates to "Greetings and good fortune!"
My mother's never actually had to purchase fot choy herself. Instead, she's always received it as a gift from family and friends, who in turn pray for a taste of her alchemal creation.
This year, she used twelve ingredients - some versions contain nearly thirty. Admittedly they might pose a gustatory challenge to an unfamiliar palate, but to a Chinese gourmet this rivals Thomas Keller's Oysters and Pearls or Alain Ducasse's Langoustines and Caviar.
Buddha Jumps the Wall
(by Rida Y.M. Chu)
- fot choy or black moss
- sea cucumber
- fish maw
- conpoy or dried scallop
- dried oyster
- lily bud
- black fungus or wood ear
- shiitake or Chinese black mushroom
- straw mushroom
- water chestnut
- bean curd skin
I can't post a recipe yet, because my mom made the dish without me (despite the fact that I specifically asked her to show me how to make it, she went ahead and made it while I was out - but that's a whole other kind post ;) Like most gifted home cooks - especially of a certain generation - my mom has never worked with recipes.
The first day of Chinese New Year also marks Movable Feast's anniversary. This year it's two. I'd like to invite you to celebrate with me - in Paris this month over a glass of absinthe - and in Chicago next month with a few beers. Details soon.
Best wishes for a happy and prosperous 4704! Gung Hay Fot Choy!