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Happy New Year! Happy Chinese New Year to be exact. This year, the celebration will begin on February 14th (Valentine's Day), ushering in the year of the Tiger. As always, it will be a time for families to come together and celebrate their unity and good fortune as they enjoy 15 days of feasting on delicious foods.
As with most traditions, Chinese New Year's origins begin with ancient folklore. As the legend goes, the ancient people of China lived in fear of a mythical beast called the Nian. The Nian was a fierce chimera like creature that resembled a lion, an ox, and a unicorn all at the same time. It was said that the Nian would always appear on the first day of the new year and terrorize the villagers by destroying their crops, slaughtering their livestock, and devouring their children. The people's only defense was to set food outside their houses in hopes of deterring the beast from eating anyone. This was their only means of protection until one year when they noticed that the creature would not go near a small child who was wearing a red cloak while clanging on a pan. The great and powerful Nian was afraid of the color red and loud noises! So, for every year after that, the villagers would hang red lanterns and scrolls in their windows and pop fire crackers to ensure that the beast would not return. The Chinese word for year is "nian" which is the same name as the beast so, the celebratory for Chinese New Year is "guo nian" or "the passing of the beast." Thus, Chinese New Year was born.
This coming New Year will bring with it the Year of the Tiger. The tiger represents power, grace, independence, and bravery. Every Chinese year is accompanied by one of 12 symbolic animal figures (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig). Each animal carries its own unique attributes which is said to be passed on to people born in that year. So, if you were born in the year of the tiger, than congratulations, you're a Tiger! Well, tiger-ish anyway. Tiger people are said to be straightforward and outgoing. They never give up and are natural leaders, which is great because they also love being the center of attention. They can also be full of suspicion and too hasty when taking action, but they always take pride in what they do. The relationship between animal and man is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Chinese New Year's symbolism. Even the food prepared for the celebration has strong symbolic meaning.
Chinese New Year is all about the unity of family and feasting. Friends and relatives travel from miles around to bring with them dishes that are considered to be good luck for the coming year. Each food has its own symbolic reference to good fortune. Pork and cabbage dumplings, called "Yuanbao" are shaped like old style gold and silver ingots, and represent prosperity. Long noodles, leafy greens, and whole long beans are all served to give blessing of a long life. Round sweet glutinous rice, cakes called "Nian Gao" (Year Cake) are eaten to bring early prosperity and quick ascension to new heights. Citrus fruits such as pomelo, tangerines, and oranges are given as gifts because their round shape is seen as a symbol of unity and togetherness. In fact, the Chinese word for orange sounds like the word "gold," the word for tangerine sounds like the word "luck," and the word for fish sounds like the word for abundance. The fish must be cooked whole with the head and tail to ensure a good beginning and end of the coming year. During Chinese New Year, all dishes must be prepared using whole or uncut ingredients to avoid misfortune; using a knife is considered very unlucky because it could sever the family's good fortune. Many of the festivities surrounding Chinese New Year also revolve around luck and well-being.
During Chinese New Year, beautiful ornaments are hung in homes and markets. Oval shaped red paper lanterns and posters with Chinese calligraphy can be seen everywhere throughout the celebration. Images of Koi fish can also be found as they represent surplus and success. Many cities with large Chinese populations celebrate the tradition annually with parades and Dragon and/or Lion dances which depict the battle between the people and the evil spirits. Compared to American holidays, Chinese New Year would have to be Thanksgiving, Christmas, and of course New Years all rolled into one. With so much symbolism of good fortune and togetherness spanning the 15 day duration of Chinese New Year, it is no wonder why the Chinese consider it the most important time of the year.
Countless numbers of beautiful hand sculpted statuettes can be created from a single square sheet of paper. The word Origami is a Japanese compound word; Ori means "to fold" and kami means "paper." Origami sculptures can range from small to large; from simple to complex. It also plays an integral role in Japanese culture and folklore. Known as the ancient Japanese art of paper folding, Origami has been around for centuries.
The origin of origami is a bit cloudy. Some say, since paper was invented over two thousand years ago in China, paper folding (known as Zhe Zhi in China) naturally had to be invented there, right? Wrong. Just because paper was created there doesn't necessarily mean that they perfected the art. So, by process of elimination, it must have started in Japan. Wrong again! That assumption is based on two stories from the Japanese Heian era. One of the stories tells of a poet, Fujiwara-no Kiyosuke, that sends his girlfriend a fake frog. The other story speaks of Abe-no Seimei, a famous Japanese cosmologist, who made a paper bird that transformed into a real one. Although both stories mention the creation of animal figures, it doesn't state that paper was folded to make them. The truth is, the art of paper folding actually originated in Europe. In the 1490 edition of Tractatus de Sphaera Mundi written by Johannes de Sacrobosco in the 15th century, an origami boat is depicted. But don't fret; even though origami wasn't created in Japan, it was made famous there.
Origami has very strong roots in Japanese culture. Samurai warriors used to trade gifts wrapped with origami to each other as symbols of good luck. In traditional Shinto weddings, origami butterflies are folded to represent the bride and groom. In fact, folding 1,000 paper cranes is considered good luck. We learn this from the true story of Sadako Sasaki.
In August 6, 1945, Sadako Sasaki was just two years old. She lived near Misasa Bridge in Hiroshima, Japan, about 1 mile away from ground zero where the bomb was dropped. By the time Sadako was eleven years old, she developed a severe rash similar to chicken pox. She was hospitalized and later diagnosed with leukemia. With only a year to live, one of Sadako's best friends visited her in the hospital and folded a golden piece of paper into beautiful paper crane. At first Sadako didn't understand why, so her friend told her the story of the 1,000 paper cranes. It is said that a folder of the thousand paper cranes is granted one wish. Inspired by the story, Sadako started folding them herself. Having an abundance of free time in the hospital, she would fold cranes out of any scraps of paper that she could find. Around mid October however, her condition worsened and she became bed ridden. With her family at her side, Sadako passed away short of her goal with only 644 cranes folded. Her friends finished the remaining cranes and buried them with her. In memory of Sadako and all the other children lost in the bombing, a statue of Sadako holding a golden origami crane was erected in Hiroshima.
The Japanese have mastered origami and take it pretty seriously. Japanese children are taught how to fold intricate sculptures in grade school and many of them continue this practice into adulthood. Origami has greatly evolved from the simple crane and the jumping frog to extremely complex designs created by using mathematical equations to form the shapes before a single sheet of paper is folded.
Origami is a fascinatingly decorative craft. Normally origami paper has color on one side and is blank on the other, but double sided sheets exist too. There is also foil backed paper with metallic colors glued to one side of the sheet just as the name suggests. Most of the sheets are thin and similar to copy paper with the exception of Washi. Washi is the number one paper used in Japan because it is tougher than the regular paper due to it being made out of tree bark fibers or bamboo rather than ordinary wood pulp. Christmas ornaments can also be made. Take a look at our Origami Wreaths and Rings book for great holiday reef ideas. We also have a few other origami books on our web page with step by step instructions on how to fold your own origami at home. While you're browsing, don't forget to stop and take a gander at our assortment of Origami Paper (http://www.asianfoodgrocer.com/category/origami-paper). We carry many different types of paper from shiny metallic to elegantly patterned Washi. AsianFoodGrocer.com has it all!
Legend has it, thousands of years ago, a beautiful maiden named Chang'e and her husband Houyi, a master at archery, lived in heaven as immortals. One day the Jade Emperor, who was the King of Heaven, called for aid from Houyi. When Houyi reached the palace, he was told that the emperor's ten sons had transformed into ten suns. The suns were high in the sky above the Earth; causing the land to be scorched, food to become scarce, and a terrible drought. Thousands of people perished because of the extreme heat. Houyi, using his masterful archery skills, shot down nine of the ten sons, leaving one son alive to be the sun. The Jade Emperor was not pleased with Houyi's actions; His nine sons where no more. As punishment, Houyi and Chang'e were banished to the Earth to live as mortals.
Chang'e became extremely saddened. Seeing this, Houyi left her side to seek out the pill of immortality form the Queen Mother of the West. The queen agreed to give the pill to Houyi, but warned him to only use half for himself and the other for Chang'e to regain their immortality. Houyi returned home with the pill and warned Chang'e not to open the case which it was contained in. When he left home, the temptation overcame Chang'e and she opened the case just as Houyi was returning home. Nervous that Houyi would catch here looking at the pill; she threw it into her mouth and accidentally swallowed it just as her husband opened to door. Chang'e began to float into the air, climbing higher and higher due to the overdose of the immortality pill. She floated higher than Houyi's reach, he wanted to shoot her back down, but he could not stomach the thought of pointing his bow and arrow at his beloved wife. Chang'e floated beyond the clouds far into the sky and eventually came to rest on the moon. Chang'e was deeply saddened and lonely without her husband. But she wasn't alone on the moon! A jade rabbit already lived there! (Check out the Jade Rabbit's story here http://bit.ly/bZ9Vh) Chang'e and the rabbit became good friends and she was no longer lonely. On the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the full moon of the 8th lunar month, an altar is set up facing the moon to worship her. New pastries are put on the altar for her to bless and in return, she endows her worshippers with beauty and fertile lands for food cultivation.
The Moon Festival is a great night time event with lots of fun and beautiful activities for the whole family. It is a time of unity and remembrance with an assortment of delicious foods from fresh and sweet Chinese grapefruits (pomelo) to dense and stunning Mooncakes. So on October 3rd 2009, don't forget to look up at the moon and think of all your loved ones far from home. You never know, they too may be doing the exact same thing.
Everyone has heard of Chinese New Year, but did you know that they also celebrate a Lunar New Year? Well, they do! It's called the Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongqiu Jie) or just the Chinese Moon Festival. Similar to Thanksgiving here in the states, the Lunar Festival is a time for families and loved ones to unite in celebration of the Autumn food harvest while basking in the warm waxy glow of the full moon.
Held on the 15th day of the 8th month on the Lunar Calendar, the tradition dates back 3,000 years to ancient China during the Shang Dynasty where moon worship was a faith of the day. Jumping forward to 1368 A.D during the Ming Dynasty, the Mid-Autumn Festival became immensely popular, and the love for this custom still continues today. The Festival is normally held outdoors in a park or public gathering area, a variety of festivities take place throughout the celebration. Attendees can enjoy parades, incense burning, planting mid-autumn trees, lighting lanterns, dragon dances, or just sitting back with a glass of wine while celebrating their happiness; or thinking of loved ones who are far from home, while gazing into the moon's silvery gleam. To compliment all the activities of the festival, Mooncakes are past out to the nearest and dearest.
Mooncakes are a special pastry eaten during the merriment of the festival. They are usually round like the moon and symbolize friendship, togetherness, fertility, and longevity. Mooncakes are filled with sweet filling such as lotus seed paste, red bean, taro, black sesame paste, and the list goes on. Some Mooncakes even contain an egg yolk from a preserved salted duck egg, representing the full moon. The outer crust of the cakes can range from light and flakey to soft and chewy depending on the bakery. One of the largest companies to manufacture these delicious treats is Hong Kong's Maxim's Group. They've been churning out top quality products since 1956. HK Maxim's Group signature Mei-Xin Mooncakes have won numerous awards for their superior craftsmanship and use of specially selected ingredients. Mei-Xin Mooncakes have been Hong Kong's best selling cakes for 11 years running. There is also a legendary story behind these celebratory pastries.
As the story goes, China was once ruled by Mongolians in the Yuan Dynasty. Unhappy with their foreign rulers, the people of China formed an underground rebellion. To conceal there secret messages, the leaders of the rebellion baked their attack plans into each Mooncake. The cakes were delivered in packs of four and cut into quarters then lined up to reveal their secret message. After the message was received, the cakes were eaten to destroy the evidence. On the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the rebels launched their attack on the government and successfully overthrew their oppressors. Today, Mooncakes are eaten to commemorate the victory of the rebellion. If you think this story is cool, wait til you hear the origin story of the Mid-Autumn Festival next week!
When we walked into the dealer's room on day one we were immediately intimidated by all the booths, with their awesome setups and cages, you could tell that these were seasoned venders. After we had set up our booth and stepped back to look at it, we saw that our image matched what we were about. There were boxes of Pocky stacked 10 high and nothing flashy except our attitudes. We were a warehouse come to the public, and our prices matched the look.
Cosplayer's and various anime fans walked around for about 15 minutes trying to be frugal with their well earned dollars. Then like a slow starting avalanche people trickled in to purchase our $1 Pocky. Then they snowballed in, and then they couldn't get enough! I think personally I was able to sit down for 10 minutes throughout the whole weekend! Lunch time and bathroom breaks were non-existent!
It wasn't enough for us just to sit back and wait for people to come to us. We went to this convention with a mission: Let the world see, and they shall buy Pocky. We sent out our staff to talk to people in lines, in the game room, and throughout the different halls; handing flyers to everyone interested in something other than $6 hot dogs. Also, Chey, our production artist and Micah our Anime informant, engaged the crowd on a level that made other dealers jaws drop. For myself, I put on my skin tight unitard and cosplayed as the Riddler from Batman Forever. Somehow we were able to keep spirits high and the hordes of Pocky-Holics energized!
I was very happy to hear and talk to many current shoppers and Twitter followers. To put a face to you was awesome, and I can't express enough my thanks for following us. Also I want to thank FanimeCon for being our first convention ever and making it possible to come back next year and offer more snacks and treats. And of course after four days of hard selling, I want to thank all of the attendees who came to shop with us. Without you, this would not have been possible.
We have received some outside kudos for our booth HERE at about.com. And we have a gallery of pictures HERE from the event. We can't wait till next year to dress up and come back. Check out our Twitter or Email Newsletter, and keep posted for our next appearance.
Flowers and chocolate? So cliche! Pamper your sweetie with heart-shaped sushi rolls, origami Valentines, and Japanese candy. Romantic sushi for two and no reservations necessary!
Love is like a Red, Red Sashimi RosePresent your loved one with a bouquet of the freshest flowers: Sashimi roses made from salmon or tuna! Sprinkle salmon eggs in the center and lay the roses on a platter with tiny radish buds. A nutritious, delicious bouquet of love! If you aren't schooled in the art of making sushi roses (few are) sign-up for a sushi-making classes for two. Or give your Valentine a sushi maker and cookbook along with flower kiss candy.
Heart-Melting SushiWhile the sashimi rose is for skilled sushi handlers, even novices can make heart-shaped sushi. You'll need a heart-shaped sushi mold or sushi kit. Place nori sheets into the mold. Add vinegared rice. Use a rice spatula to create a groove in the middle of the rice and carefully place your favorite ingredients inside (think pink!). Voila! Heart-shaped sushi for your Valentine. For a simpler version of heart-shaped sushi, arrange round sushi rolls into a giant heart on a platter. Use chopsticks and pierce the heart with an arrow. (Picture from Sushi or Death's Valentine's special).
Japanese candy and origami Valentines. Stick strawberry dessert Pocky into pink Valentine's Day cupcakes. Make a rose out of red origami paper for an Asian twist on regular Valentines. And nothing says Be Mine quite like adorable Hello Kitty snacks. Whether you celebrate Valentine's Day or White Day, holiday planning doesn't have to be hard. Shop Asian Food Grocer for everything you'll need to create a fabulously festive feast! Then take our poll and tell us what you consider the most romantic, Asian-inspired Valentine's gift.
Lunar New Year has finally
arrived and it's time to celebrate! Break into the Year of the Ox with Chinese
tea leaf eggs. These beautiful eggs aren't only delicious... they're
auspicious. Eggs symbolize fertility and represent the golden nuggets of the Chinese
New Year feast. Not your ordinary baker's dozen, these eggs combine subtle flavors with deep brown hues from soy and tea leaves. Serve chilled as an appetizer on Easter morning, during New Year's feast-ivities, or all year long. They're almost too pretty to eat! (Photo from Slurp!)
Ingredients for Tea Leaf Eggs:
2 cups water
3 tbsp. Soy Sauce (2 tbsp reg. soy sauce; 1 tbsp dark soy sauce)
2 black tea bags
1 cinnamon stick
2 pods star anise (optional)
Place eggs gently into a large saucepan; cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and rinse with cool water. When cool, tap eggs lightly with the back of a spoon and break the shell. Don't remove the shell yet!
In a large sauce pan, combine 3 cups water, soy sauce, tea leaves, cinnamon stick, and star anise. Bring water to a boil. Then reduce heat, simmer, and cover for three hours. Remove the brew from heat and add eggs. Let eggs steep for 8 hours in the mixture before serving. Note: steep in mixture for up to 1-1/2 days for rich flavor.
To Chinese families, New Years (or Spring Festival) is much more than a time for renewal. It's a time to reunite with family, honor ancestors, and feast - not for nourishment, but for prosperity Since Chinese New Year typically lasts for 15 days, here are 15 fun facts and "feast-ivities" for the holiday.
Five Fun Chinese New Year Facts:
- Chinese New Years goes by the Lunar Calendar and changes every year
- 2009 is the year of the Ox. It is said that people born in the year of the Ox are dependable, trust worthy, and become painters, engineers, and architects. One can achieve prosperity during the year of the ox through fortitude and hard work. Ox years: 1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009.
- No little black dress (it's unlucky), instead wear red! At Chinese New Years celebrations, people give out "lucky money," in red envelopes, wear red clothes, and write poems on red paper. Red symbolizes fire, which is said to ward off evil spirits.
- There's a lantern festival on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Lanterns are carried by the light of the full moon in evening parade. This is traditionally when the dragon dance takes place.
- On New Year's Eve, the Chinese clean their home from top to bottom. At the stroke of midnight, they open their windows and doors to release last year's stresses.
10 Auspicious Asian Foods:
- Stock up on chicken and fish. When served whole, it symbolizes happiness and prosperity.
- Noodles represent longevity, therefore they should never be cut. Eat noodles out of our longevity soup bowl; it has a traditional design and it's red. Don't forget the Asian noodles.
- Dishes made with oranges represent wealth and fortune because they're China's most abundant fruit. Use these mandarin oranges in your next recipe. May your fortunes be plentiful. And tasty.
- Raw tofu and bean curd are not served on Chinese New Year because white is the color of death and misfortune. And here we thought it was good for you.
- Duck signifies fidelity. Eggs symbolize fertility. Egg rolls symbolize wealth. A duck egg roll a day...well we aren't sure what will happen. But try this Chinese roasted duck mix. It's delicious.
- For Chinese New Year, serve jiaozi (dumplings boiled in water). Place coins in the center of the dumplings. Whoever bites into the dumpling with a coin will have an exceptionally lucky year. And possibly a chipped tooth.
- Dishes are chosen based on homonyms (words spelled the same or that sound the same as other words). This explains the popularity of turnips on New Years. "Cai tou" the word for turnip means "good omen." The word for bamboo shoots sounds like the phrase "wishing everything would be well." Yet another reason why you should eat your vegetables.
- Also an auspicious dish, rice cakes are a popular dessert during New Years. Their sweetness symbolizes a rich, prosperous life and the layers signify rising abundance. The round shape means a family reunion. If only the same could be said for chocolate brownies.
- On Chinese New Year's Eve, a reunion dinner is served. Members of the family, near and far get together for a celebration. A sumptuous banquet honors the ancestors. Traditionally, the family serves a whole fish with a head and tail in tact.
- Eat lychee nuts for close family ties. If you can't find any, there's always lychee hi chew and lychee chewy candy. Be sure to share with family members!
Try it out and then tell us what you think. And if the miserable weather makes you crave Miso (like we do), explore our wide section of Miso Paste and Miso Soup.
1 lb Pork tenderloin or center-cut loin, boned and fat-trimmedDirections:
1/3 c Aaka miso
1/3 c Maple syrup
1/4 c Rice wine ( Sake ), or Dry white wine, or Water
2 tb Minced Ginger
2 Apples, medium-sized
1 Onion, large - cut into wedges and separated into layers
1. Cut meat into 1/8" thick slices 6-7" long. In a heavy plastic food bag (about 1 quart), combine miso, syrup, sake, ginger, and pork; mix well. Seal shut and chill for at least 1 hour or up until the next day.
2. Core apples; cut into 1/2" wedges. Moisten with lemon juice to preserve color.
3. Thread a thin skewer through the end of a pork slice, then a piece of onion and a piece of apple. Weave skewer through meat slice again and repeat process, dividing ingredients among 4-8 skewers. If made ahead, cover and shill up to 3 hours.
4. Lay skewers on grill 4-6" above a solid bed of medium-coals (you can hold you hand at grill level for only 4-5 seconds). Baste with marinade and turn often until meat is no longer pink in center (cut to test), about 10 minutes.
You'll impress your holiday dinner guests with this delectable dish. Check back next week for another delicious recipe. If you can't wait, take a look at our Asian cookbooks. They're the perfect holiday gifts for novice chefs.
Ramen, Shirataki Noodles, and Pocky: Satisfying Snacks for College StudentsEvery college kid suffers from cafeteria overload. "Scrambled eggs..again?" Stuff your college student's stocking with satisfying snacks for all-night study sessions. College students love Pocky, especially if they majored in Japanese or joined an Anime club. If they're too old for stockings but you still want to get them something sweet, check out this Pocky Lovers pack. And you can't go wrong with Ramen noodles; an easy-to-make, classic dorm room delight. If they're trying to avoid the freshman fifteen, fill their stocking with healthy Shirataki noodles instead.
Warm Hearts with German Coffee and Good ConversationYour stylist intently listens to all your troubles, your postal worker fights rain and snow to bring you your mail, and your dog groomer does an excellent job with Fido's nails. This year, think beyond the cash tip. Gourmet, world-renowned Kronung German coffee shows your favorite people in the service industry how much you appreciate their hard work. And the caffeine gives them just the boost they need. Every present is better shared -- invite them inside, pour two cups of German coffee and listen to their stories. Good conversation over a savory cup of Joe is the best gift of all.
Jolly Japanese Candy for KidsStockings hung by the chimney with care...and full of Japanese candies! Japanese candy is colorful, sweet, and absolutely delightful! Kids can't get enough of Hello Kitty snacks and candy. Put this Hello Candy gift pack under the tree for a sweet surprise from Santa. If you'd rather not deal with the sugar after effects, stuff their stocking with non-edible trinkets like these super-cute collectible erasers.
Holiday Gifts and Asian Cooking Sets for the World's Best GrandparentsWhen the holidays are only three days away and your scrambling for gifts, do not succumb to that "World's Best Grandma" sweatshirt. Sure, everyone likes to be the "World's Best" but it's a tad uncouth when she shows up to the Senior Center and sees her friend wearing the same shirt. Japanese bath salts and soft, chewy candy make great stocking stuffers for seniors. And every Grandma, World's Best or not will love this tea kettle. If she's the crafty type check out our wide selection of origami paper. And for the "World's Best" cook, take a look at our sushi sets and bundle packs of miso paste and soup.
We'll showcase sweet holiday gifts and Asian recipes all season long, so check back soon. In the meantime, stock up on all the Asian groceries you'll need for the holidays at Asian Food Grocer.