2013: Home Cooking for Chinese New Year - Start Planning now

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lap Mei Fun
CNY is coming again.

If you are a Chinese, you do want to have some meals at home, especially for the Reunion Dinner. You can buy some of the expensive takeaways but nothing come close to the joy of home cooking. Or to put it more accurately, the joy of reliving some of the family tradition you were brought up in.

The best dishes are the one you and your siblings grew up with. They do need to be "authentic", and that is a quality which only your taste memories can judge. You are cooking up a Tan, Wong or Chan dish. Nonya, Hokkien or Hakka (that's me), CNY is about recreating memories and passing on family culinary traditions for the next generation.
I am still planning my menu. I will be blogging some recipes that should inspire you to work on yours. Meanwhile, here are a few reminders or tips. (You may also find my last CNY reflections in 2012 helpful.)

Start planning your menu. By now, you should be already thinking of what should appear for your family's eve dinner, your relatives (1st day) and guests (2nd day onwards). You may want to brush up an old recipe, tweak it or experiment with something new. You need not be the only one cooking. If someone can contribute the Acar, Sambal Belachan, Buah Keluak Chicken, that will mean one less thing for you to prepare.

Cook some things in advance. Prepare your stocks (normal and superior) and fridge them. Steam your canned abalones beforehand. Blend your curry paste. Prepare your sambal belachan. Pickled veg or dishes can be made a few days in advance, of course.

Stock up your seafood: Buy your large prawns early and freeze them. Large sea prawns will be very expensive nearing CNY. Also expensive fish i.e. large white pomfret. You can do the same for pork and chicken, though the mark-up may not be as significant.

Fridge them. Freeze them.

Buy your dried goods now: As for dried foods and stuff, this can be kept easily and it make sense to buy some now. Mushrooms is a must. Bean curd, rock sugar, herbs, dried oysters, waxed meat, black moss etc. These will be more expensive closer to CNY. You do not need to go to Chinatown for these. Check out your neighbourhood stores.  

Make room: Of course, you should start to free up your fridge and freezer space. You will not just be storing fresh food. You need fridge space for leftovers or dishes you prepare the day before.

Order your meats and birds: It  is always great to have the right chicken to steam, which is fast, easy and traditional (at least in my family, it is). But you need a good "CNY" chicken to start with, i.e. corn fed ones, mother hens. Talk with your chicken seller and place an order.

Make sure your kitchen is properly equipped: You will want to "mise en place" think of how and when you will cook them. I use different kitchen equipment and tools. Apart from the usual woks and pots, hey, I love the Magic Thermal Pot, the Slow Cooker, the Pressure Cooker, Sous Vide, claypots and of course, I use the rice cooker to do all sorts. Your oven is sitting there too. It is not Christmas but there is no reason why some dishes cannot be baked or grilled. Thinking through your approach will allow you to cook more efficiently. You will be very busy on the day itself. Stock up your cling films, paper towels and sharpen your knifes (get the old ones sharpened professionally if you need to).

Should you place an order from outlets and restaurants? Unless you are a new to cooking, I will avoid ordering cooked food in if I can help it. Due to the large quantities, they are often poorly prepared during he CNY season. The disgruntled chefs have to work overtime. I have bought "pen cai" which were terrible. Some look great on adverts but as takeaways, you might as well prepare and assemble it yourself.

As you plan your reunion meal, remember that home cooked meals are always better. If you have budget constraints (most of us have), remember that well-made dishes should be your aim, and they need not be expensive. If you can recreate CNY comfort food (i.e. lo han chai or vegetarian dish, Tau Yew Bak, steamed chicken), go for it. Even a plate of steamed Chinese sausage complements the dinner well. The goose liver sausages from HK are great. A soup, veg, waxed meat, chicken, pork, prawns/fish and you are set for a good CNY dinner. If you are not very confident, start practicing now. A few good homey dishes are all you need.

Start planning early and you will enjoy your cooking a whole lot more, and some savings to boot. In the next few posts, I will share with you my plans for my CNY menu and how I will be sourcing my ingredients.

Stay tuned.

You Might Also Like


  1. We love reading posts about Chinese New Year from other perspectives. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi

    I have been following your blog for sometime and i must say i have enjoyed and benefitted from it.
    your CNY posts are so great. Although I am quite an experienced cook, i find it very useful. This must be a great help to the younger ones. Thanks for spending so much of your precious time on your blog. my name is Dolly

  3. All you need is to practice everyday. Cooking is one of the best thing to do especially if you have all the ingredients on hand. Some people stock up and fill their fridge days or weeks before CNY and you'll be seeing a lot of flames on the day of CNY. Chinese foods are really delicious, probably because of the spice and how they cook the food. This is why I got so inspired and try cooking.

  4. Excellent information. Thanks pertaining to providing us this type of helpful information. Sustain the favorable do the job in addition to proceed providing us much more quality information every once in awhile.Asian Cooking Equipment