FoA and CARE members enjoy a vegan version of the festive holiday at SuTao Café in Malvern, Pennsylvania
The New Year (the Year of the Rat) started on 7 February 2008 and festivities in the Chinese tradition continue through to the weekend of 23-24 February. On the third day of the festival, the Philadelphia area vegan café SuTao holds a special introduction to the traditions, and a demonstration of the preparation of dumplings and spring rolls.
First, co-founder Susan Wu introduces the traditions with an animated computer display. Guests learn how to wish each other Happy New Year in Chinese, and hear that the New Year is the major celebration in Chinese culture. People prepare for a month approaching the festivities. It is particularly important to please the God of the Kitchen, who will go up to Heaven and report on how people are doing on Earth. Food is also prepared for the family ancestors (who, according to the tradition, will appreciate beholding the effort before the living descendants enjoy the dishes).
Susan has rolled the flour and water into a long roll, then cut it horizontally into many small rounds. These will now be placed (with the cut sides positioned on the top and bottom) on the cutting board and rolled out into flattened circles. The circles will be a little thicker in the middle, where the filling will be placed. The outer edges will be thin and become the seal that closes the pockets.
Friends of Animals legal director Lee Hall learns to roll dumpling pockets. One hand keeps turning the circle as the other hand quickly works the wooden roller. This makes the edges thinner than the middle of the circles. In the traditional celebration, a few dumplings are eaten at the stroke of midnight — not too many, because everyone is already full from the New Year’s Eve festivities.
Lee gets the hang of the dumpling-rolling technique. In addition to eating dumplings at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, it’s also important to eat them on the fifth full day of the New Year (which will fall on the 12th of February) because according to the tradition a mean spirit shows up that day and must be contained in the pockets of the dumplings.
Once the circles are all rolled out, the filling will be placed on the middles for enclosing into a pocket shape. This pocket resembles the traditional coin purse of the spirit of prosperity. A traditional greeting is: May you make lots of money in the New Year! The elder family members give the younger ones money in a red envelope with traditional decorations, sometimes including popular cartoon characters like Barney or Winnie the Pooh.
Here, members of the Delaware Valley group CARE (Compassion for Animals, Respect for the Environment)fashion the filling into some smart-looking pockets.
The basic idea, says Susan, is to fold the circle over the filling into a half-moon. Then take each side edge and fold up to the curve. The edge of the curve can be fluted as you go so it resembles the edge of a pie crust.
The finished pockets will be quickly boiled. They can be served that way (as steamed dumplings) or they can then be lightly fried. Both ways are delicious. Attendees will share and enjoy their own dumplings and rolls as part of the buffet to follow.
In the tradition, fish are always eaten as the New Year begins, and part of the fish is saved at the end of the meal to represent properity through the year. At SuTao, the all-vegetarian fish dish is a wonderfully light and delicious dish, created with flaked pressed soybean and a delicate seaweed skin, garnished with spring onion. Very little of it is saved after the CARE and Friends of Animals group hits the buffet…
Coming Event: From 1 pm to 5 pm on the 24th, SuTao will celebrate the Lantern Festival (conclusion of the New Year festivities) with a hands-on experience of making sweet rice balls, a dessert that must always be served on the occasion, followed by a special buffet.
For more about SuTao, see our review here.