Celebrate the year of the rabbit: Feb. 3 is the Chinese New Year

February 01, 2011|BY CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Hagerstown resident Siming Macpherson grew up in Canton, China. She shows a traditional New Year's tray of candies and candied fruits, including candied ginger, candied carrot, candied lotus root and candied, colored coconut ribbons. Macpherson is co-owner of Spirit of the Lotus Tea Co. in downtown Hagerstown.
By Chris Copley

Today is New Year's Eve. In China and some other countries in Southeast Asia, tomorrow — Thursday, Feb. 3 — is the first day in the new year.

Chinese families get together to exchange gifts, wear red-trimmed clothes, decorate with red and gold and prepare special foods.

In cold, snowy Hagerstown, Siming Macpherson recalls her childhood in tropical, southern China.

"I grew up in Canton," she said. "It's like Florida. We have flowers year-round. There's a flower market three days before New Year's. We display flowers like these."

She gestured to a branch of silk peach blossoms in the corner of her shop, Spirit of the Lotus Tea Co.

Macpherson said people in China celebrate the New Year for days.

"New Year is a time for families to get together," she said. "It's a two-week holiday."

Korean celebration

Korea also celebrates New Year at this time. Mi Young Montgomery was born and raised in Seoul, Korea. At 23, she emigrated to the United States, and she lives with her husband, Kenneth, and three children in Hagerstown.

She said when she was young, Korean city dwellers tended to drop some of the older traditions. But respect for elders is still important, and when urban hipsters visited their parents living in the countryside, they celebrated New Year's in the traditional fashion, with traditional foods and games. Sometimes an entire village celebrating together.

Now that she lives half a world from her parents, she still maintains close ties.

"Usually at New Year's we all wear new clothes. New Year is a new starting point," she said. "This year, my mother sent a Korean dress for my kids. Outfits for all three. We still celebrate, but we don't bow down to ancestors."

Montgomery said in Korea, families share a holiday feast, with white rice cakes, bone broth, special dumplings  and more. Her church, the Hagerstown Korean Church, celebrated the New Year this past Sunday. Montgomery translates worship services at the church for English-speaking members.

Modern adaptations

Macpherson said people in China have many special foods connected New Year's festivities. Traditional Cantonese foods tend to be sweet — candied fruit, sweet dumplings, sweet cakes — and they can be time-consuming to make. So many modern families purchase commercial versions.

And in modern China, there are other commercial sweets: chocolates. She pulled out a tray of gold-wrapped treats.

"This is the modern version," she said with a laugh. "Chocolates that look like gold ingots."

Daikon cake

Equipment needed: Wok with lid, bamboo steamer rack, 9-inch-diameter cake pan.

Cake base

1 1/2 pounds daikon radish (see cook's note)
1 can chicken broth
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon white pepper
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 pound rice flour


1 cup thinly sliced Chinese sausage (or other sausage), optional
1/2 cup Chinese dried shrimp (or other tiny shrimp), optional
1 cup Chinese mushroom (or other mushrooms), optional
2 scallions, thinly sliced, divided
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, optional

Peel the daikon and discard the skin. Shred the daikon.

Put shredded daikon, chicken broth, 4 tablespoons sugar, pepper and salt and 1/2 cup water in a large frying pan. Cook over medium-high heat until boiling, then reduce heat to medium and cook about 30 to 40 minutes, until daikon is soft. Taste daikon, if it tastes bitter add more sugar.

While daikon is cooking, dice the sausage, shrimp and mushrooms, and slice scallions. Place sausage, shrimp and mushrooms and half the scallions, plus soy sauce, remaining sugar and cooking wine in frying pan over high heat and stir-fry. Set aside filling ingredients.

When daikon is softened, slowly stir in the rice flour. Mix well; you'll notice the cake base thicken.

When daikon and rice flour are well-blended, add three-quarters of the filling and mix well.

Place bamboo steamer rack in cleaned wok half-filled with water. Set heat to medium.

Grease a 9-inch cake pan well. Pour daikon cake mixture into pan. Place remaining filling ingredients on top and sprinkle with remaining scallions.

Place pan on steamer rack and place lid on wok. Steam cake for about 40 minutes. Add more water as needed. Cake is done when chopstick inserted into center of cake comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool for at least one hour.

Cut into 1/2-inch slices, not wedges. Cut slices into 2-inch pieces and fry. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using, and serve hot.

Cook's notes:  Daikon radishes are long, white radishes shaped like fat carrots. They are strong-flavored. Many area grocery stores offer daikons in the produce section.

Recipe courtesy of John and Siming Macpherson of Hagerstown.

If you go ...

WHAT: Chinese New Year's celebration with free tea tastings and special new year's treats

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today through Saturday, Feb. 5

Spirit of the Lotus Tea Co., 57 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown.

COST: Free

CONTACT: Call 301-302-8019 or e-mail

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