Today is the autumnal equinox and that means summer is officially over. But with the unusually warm weather we’ve been enduring lately, it doesn’t feel like autumn at all. (What global warming?) Farmers’ markets throughout the city are still selling tomatoes, and Harlem watermelon vendors are still hawking this summer fruit at their sidewalk stalls. Last weekend I was delighted to find some wonderful looking celtuce, a summer vegetable, in Chinatown and thought that it was not too late to make soy-pickled celtuce.
When it comes to holiday celebrations, Warren and I are traditionalists. For Thanksgiving, a New England turkey dinner, accompanied by oyster stuffing, pan gravy, mashed potato and orange cranberry sauce, is the undeviating menu. For Christmas a prime rib roast or a ham would be added as we host a larger crowd. Lately though, there’s been grumbling by the family that we should be more modern and innovative with our Christmas dinner. But how does one inject creativity into a classic Christmas dinner? I decided to search for an answer in my Chinese cooking tradition.
Growing up in Singapore I often chatted with my grandfather about Jinjiang (晉江), our ancestral hometown in Fujian (福建) province of China. The stories he told painted a picture of a fishing village with a thriving commercial center where our ancestors lived and worked as merchants and traders. So imagine my surprise when I learned that Jinjiang is now a city with a population of one million.
Still a busy fishing port, Jinjiang has become the largest center of underwear and swimsuit production in all of China, and by extension the whole world. That is the product of economic liberalization over the last three decades. But what interested me the most was investigating the local foodways. Would I be able to find the comfort foods of my youth in Jinjiang? Would the different kinds of flavored rice, fish balls, angel hair noodles and fresh spring rolls be the same?
Precariously balancing an overly full tray of pineapple shrimp fried rice I got off the elevator and entered a high ceiling open space loft in the Soho district of New York City. Workstations with flickering screens were everywhere, and a meeting room hides behind walls rising half way up to the ceiling. In another open space I saw the original painting of Barry the berry on a horse back looking out onto a valley, which is the same picture attached to the about page of gojee.com. Although I have no idea what is the significance of this picture I knew this had to be the right place. I was in one of the communal office spaces of the New York City’s many technology startups. It was the home of the team behind gojee.com, a recipe search site with thousands of recipe listings from the best food bloggers.
Every year in May or June, dragon boat races are held all over the world. There are races in Hong Kong, San Francisco, New York, London and everywhere in between. These races originate from the Chinese celebration of the Duan Wu Festival (端午節) on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which this year falls on Thursday the 28th of May. The most widely told story of the origin of the festival is that it commemorates the death of QuYuan (屈原), a patriotic minister and poet to the court of Emperor Huai (楚懷王) of the Chu Kingdom (楚國) during the Warring Sates period (春秋戰國) around 300 BCE. After serving the emperor loyally for many years, Qu Yuan ran afoul of court politics and was banished. He was devastated and started writing poetry lamenting the loss of the emperor’s favor and the decline of his native kingdom. Saddened by the eventual fall of the Chu Kingdom and the death of Emperor Huai he killed himself in the Mi Luo River (汨羅江). However there is a deep dark secret that is not often discussed.