Long after the bubbly and the noisemakers are all gone, the Chinese community here in America and around the globe begins to think about its own New Year celebration, based on thousands of years of ceremony and revelry.
For Joanne Chang, a Boston restaurateur, the New Year is about connecting with her roots.
“Gong He Fa Tsai,” says a little boy, bundled in layers of down and wool clothing, to an older man reading a newspaper on Kneeland Street in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood. He says it again, and the man looks up, smiles, and reaches into his pocket for coins. “All the kids have to say is ‘Happy New Year’ and they get coins or candy,” says Joanne, chef and owner of Flour Bakery & Cafe and the recently opened Myers + Chang restaurant. During the two-week celebration, the neighborhood welcomes dragon dancers and elaborate parades, fireworks that light up the sky, and family get-togethers centered around a time-honored cuisine.
Joanne and her fiance, Christopher Myers (her partner at Myers + Chang and co-owner of Radius, Great Bay, and Via Matta restaurants), own a loft condo on the outskirts of Chinatown. “We love Asian food,” says Joanne, “and if we’re not cooking it at home, we’re eating out at one of the great restaurants within walking distance. That’s what propelled us to open our first restaurant together.” This year, Joanne’s mother, Sue, and her dad, C.Y., are visiting from Texas. It’s a perfect opportunity to cook all day and have a few close friends over.
“The shopping is easy,” notes Joanne. “There aren’t a ton of ingredients for so many dishes.”
“It’s a lot of chopping,” says Sue, “but the cooking is fast. I like to be in the kitchen with Joanne, getting ready before everyone shows up. She knows the food — she doesn’t need me anymore — but it’s a good reminder of her roots, and we have fun.”
While making dumplings, Sue scoops the ground-pork stuffing into doughy wrappers and deftly shapes them into perfect half-moon packages. “I’ve been making these dumplings ever since I was married, some 40 years now,” she says.
“My mother made them differently,” adds C.Y. “Slowly, Sue’s tasted a little more like my mother’s, but still with her own touch. I wonder what Joanne’s will taste like 40 years from now.”
Joanne and Christopher’s space is all about tall ceilings and minimal yet well-thought-out furnishings. “We have a large table, and we don’t like things too fussy,” says Joanne. “We like simple, white plates so you can see the food and the decorations — traditional flower blossoms and citrus fruits — without being over-the-top or gaudy. You can really go crazy with banners and all kinds of red and gold stuff.”
It would be easier, and certainly a good way to celebrate Chinese New Year, to phone one of the many numbers on the trifold take-away menus tucked away in a drawer somewhere — but a little time in the kitchen goes a long way toward mother-daughter bonding and showing your good friends a little something about Chinese tradition.