Susur Lee and the Wisdom of Chinese New Year
Dumplings shaped like money; long, slippery noodles to symbolize longevity. I’ve always looked at Chinese New Year as a time to reflect on my blessings — and get back on the wagon with my (Gregorian calendar) New Year’s Resolutions.
But it’s tough since the food surrounding Chinese New Year is so spectacular. Chinese chefs around North America celebrate in their restaurants with extensive menus of symbolic foods and ingredients intended to make the coming months prosperous: scallions, with their hollow tube, represent an open mind; kumquats and oranges resemble gold and promise fortune; a whole fish, because the Chinese character for fish is pronounced nearly identical to the one for “abundance.”
“Food is knowledge, it’s history,” says Susur Lee, Chinese chef and restaurateur in Canada and the United States. “Eating is a symbolic of how much you live, how much you know…Even though Chinese are not very expressive, when it comes to food we’re very expressive. We talk about texture inside the mouth, how it smells. All that is very sensual, really connected with your body.”
Last year — the year of the rabbit — Lee featured rabbit dumplings on the menu of his eponymous Toronto restaurant. At his Washington restaurant Zentan, there won’t be any dragon — as this year’s creature is rather difficult to come by — but there will be plenty of crispy red snapper (the “abundance” course) and the knock out Singapore Slaw.
How do you say “off the wagon again” in Chinese?