Zoey Gong is a Traditional Chinese Medicine chef and nutritionist. Born in Shanghai, she now lives in New York City, where she hosts pop-up medicinal dinners and collaborates with various brands to teach the wisdom of medicinal cooking. To welcome the Year of the Silver Ox, Zoey shared with us one of her special recipes and talked about the way her family celebrates the Lunar New Year. You may purchase the complete Chinese New Year cookbook and find more free recipes on her platform Five Seasons TCM.
Chinese New Year is called “Chun Jie” 春节 in Chinese. It is the most important holiday in Chinese culture. The entire nation of 1.4 billion people, along with its expats all over the world, celebrate together, wear red, visit family members, and gift and eat an extraordinary amount of traditional food. Growing up in Shanghai, China, I love the food I get to have during Chinese New Year. My family is all about preparing New Year’s food by ourselves. Here’s how we usually do it.
The biggest family dinner is on Lunar New Year’s Eve. In the morning of that day, my grandparents always wake up super early to get bags and bags of fresh produce from the market. Then, as they start to make the dumpling filling, they wake the rest of us up with the chopping sound of a Chinese cleaver knife against a very thick wood chopping board. When the younger members of the family, including me, finally get up, it is time to fold the dumplings! We sit at a round table, on which there is usually a big basket of dumpling filling made from pork, mushrooms, chives, and five spice, and a tray with mountains of dumpling skin. Everyone in my family is a dumpling making pro. We gossip about life while we fold the dumplings into ingot shapes that symbolize wealth and prosperity. It usually takes us half an hour to make 200 dumplings or more for our dinner, as well as a gift for our relatives. After making dumplings, we take a break to watch TV specials on Lunar New Year, while snacking on traditional snacks like black sesame crisps, spicy peanuts, tangerines from the local farmer’s market, and adzuki bean mochi. It is never possible to watch a TV program uninterrupted because relatives would show up to give us gifts (usually food, of course) and give me red envelopes (yay, although I immediately hand it in to my mom). Around dinner time, my family starts cooking again, preparing an array of Shanghainese dishes, from bok choy rice, to braised pork belly, to sticky rice balls—all my favorite foods. Precisely at 6 pm, we as a family sit down around our round table with a lazy susan in the center and dozens of Chinese dishes glistening with the perfect amount of fat, sugar, and salt. Eating starts and will not end until midnight, when we finally welcome our new year.
The night is far from ending, though. Fireworks start and continue to bloom in the sky until dawn. And the celebration continues, as the new day arrives. The festive spirit lasts for about a week! Now that I’m living in New York City and writing this piece, I am incredibly homesick!
Gold and silver ingots were currency once used in ancient China. This boiled dumpling recipe molds the dumplings into the shape of an ingot to bring material and spiritual wealth to you! The filling is designed to contain many warming ingredients to promote better circulation and warm you up in cold weather! It is also a fun dish to make with a group of friends and family. See the “Why” section at the end for more!
Chop everything like your entire family's dinner depends on it (which is true . . . ). Mix in the seasoning and stir in one direction to form the filling. Feel free to cook a little bit of it in a pan and adjust the seasoning.
Get a small side dish of water to use as the glue. Fold dumplings into an ingot shape. Dip one finger in water and moisten the edge of the skin. Place the filling in the center. Close the edges tightly. Then dip your finger in water again and moisten the two "feet" of the dumpling. Fold them down and towards the center to close the dumpling, like tortellini.
Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Drop the dumplings in and boil them until they float to the top. Immediately serve with soy sauce, pea sprouts, and/or bone broth!
Dumplings signify family reunion, as most families spend New Year's Eve together preparing them. They also represent prosperity in their symbolic shape of ancient Chinese money. My grandpa puts a single peanut inside one of the dumplings for a lucky family member to find, but I don't think I've ever found it!