Eight things for Chinese New Year

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One of my earliest and favorite memories of Chinese New Year is being at my popo’s house when she was making gau, the traditional brown sugar mochi. It would take her all day, kneading the dough on the floor before putting it into huge stockpots for steaming. When it was ready, she would pour some into a coffee cup for me — a molten, caramelly, pudding-like treat. I was acting as taste tester, which wasn’t really a job because it was perfect every time.

On the other hand, my mom would make jai, known as monk’s food, and for some reason each year’s batch would come out differently. It was like uncorking the first bottle of a vintage wine: always a surprise, but not really fixable once the batch was done. Thank goodness, there were more good jai years than bad.

Then Mrs. Lee next door would make fresh gin dui for us as a Chinese New Year gift. They were always hot, lightly crisp, and filled with char siu. Since they were so delicate, they needed to be eaten right away or they’d deflate. These weren’t like the heavy, doughy restaurant gin dui; these were the real deal.

You may not have people in your life like Mrs. Lee, my mom, or my popo, so if you want a primer on celebrating Chinese New Year, I have a list of eight things you need to optimize ringing in the Year of the Dragon on January 23. This year is supposed to bring prosperity for all, so celebrate big.

1. Li See

If you're Chinese, the number one thing on your list for New Year is giving — or better yet, receiving — li see (also pronounced lai see), the traditional red money envelope. You can get this at just about any store in Chinatown, usually in packets of 10 to 12. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits; any amount is appreciated, as long as you don't give your money in increments of four, which symbolizes death. Tip: Make sure to ask what kind of envelope you're buying. Some are for the New Year, others for wedding or birthday.

Picture 1 of 21

Most of these were from Night in Chinatown last weekend. The next (and last) big event is the Chinese New Year Festival this Friday and Saturday at the Chinese Cultural Plaza, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. It’s free to the public and will feature food vendors, cultural demonstrations, retail items, and fortune telling.

Here’s a list of other happenings around town. Remember, you can celebrate Chinese New Year for the two weeks following January 23. Gung hei fat choy!

Mililani Town Center
January 21, 10 a.m.
If you can’t come to Chinatown, Chinatown will come to you. Lion dance performance followed by visiting the merchants around the center.

Royal Hawaiian Center
January 21, 3:30 p.m.; and January 23, 5 p.m.
Performances will begin in The Royal Grove with a blast of firecrackers. Lion dancing and a martial arts performance by Lung Kong Physical Culture Club.

Hawaii Kai Towne Center
January 21, 11 a.m.
Lion dance performance and kung fu demonstration by the Wah Ngai Lion Dance Association. The lion dancing will continue throughout the Center to bring good luck wishes to shoppers and merchants for the coming year.

Waipahu Festival Marketplace
January 22, 9 a.m.
Another lion dance performance. Come early for parking, as this event gets crowded.

Kahala Mall Center
January 22, 10 a.m.
The Wah Ngai Association will do a lion dance featuring acrobatic pole jumping, followed by  visitation around the mall.

Ala Moana Center
January 25-28
The big lion dance is on January 28, noon at Centerstage, when 20 lions gather around a large firecracker cage, then disperse throughout the mall to bring good wishes to all.

Waikiki Beach Walk
January 27, 6 p.m.
The Chinese Lion Dance Association will feature a lion dance with the acrobatic pole jumping, followed by visitation to merchants around the Center.

Narcissus Coronation Ball
January 28, 5 p.m.
The Chinese Chamber of Commerce presents the Narcissus Coronation Ball at the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s Coral Ballroom. A Chinese epicurean feast followed by program celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Chinese Chamber, with Halau Hula Olana, opera singer Ms. Bai He, and the crowning of the 63rd Narcissus Queen and her Court. The evening concludes with ballroom dancing. Tickets, $68, available at 808-533-3181

 

78 comments
ygriffiths
ygriffiths

Great memories! Especially of the gao and gin dui from your grandmothers.

bettydalycity
bettydalycity

Fatt Gao is to bring in lot luck and money . When the muffins puff big and high you will have lot good fortune for the new year.

harrycovair
harrycovair

Saturday afternoon, 21Jan2012, and Chinatown was PACKED! I think it's going to be worst on Sunday as everybody will be doing their last minute shopping.

bettydalycity
bettydalycity

OK I been holding out on this recipe for Fatt Gao.

1 cup water

1 cup brown sugar or white sugar if you plan to make color muffins

1 cup flour

1 baking mix like bisquick or other will do

Mix all together and pour into muffin pan and steam for 30 to 45 mins.

Gung Hay Fatt Choy!

bettydalycity
bettydalycity

Fatt Gau you can find in Vietnamese Shops for they make them too and so does Filipino bakeries. It like little muffins some time come in many colors. See Flickr on how they look like.

LenaHanson
LenaHanson

Great story about your childhood during Chinese new year!
I love all the Chinese treats!

Amy1
Amy1

The CNY customs are different in mainland and San Francisco is one. My cousins every year get 20.00 in their li see since they were kids. I never got that much just 1.00 token li see for good luck. My parents said too much money make a child greedy In some way true indeed. So I just save my li see money for small things and was happy.

In San Francisco they buy Quinn Branches for good luck for business or homes. Every where sell fatt gau (rice muffin ) .

CindySJ
CindySJ

Great article Melissa! Brings back so many memories of "small kid time"! I need to make sure my kids have those memories too! Love gin dui and gau! And yes! We used to fry up hard gau in egg! Soooo yummy! You know what's weird? I was raving about gau to some Chinese co-workers from the Bay area and Jersey (yes, Jersey) and they had no idea what gau was. They were thinking it must be from a specific region in China that got brought over to Hawaii. And when my kids were born, both my parents and MIL stopped giving li see to me and hubby. They sad li see was a custom for kids. :(

BixbyHo
BixbyHo

You're so right on @Melissa808 !!!! Kung Hee Fat Choi to each and every one of you! Come out to Mililani Town Center this Saturday for Chinese New Year celebrations and if you can't make it on Saturday, come out on Sunday to Waipahu Festival Marketplace in the morning for more Chinese New Year celebrations!

bettydalycity
bettydalycity

It to see photos of Honolulu during CNY. I use to live on Liliha St. and my dad make the jai and mom and popo make the gau and gin dui to pass to neighbors around us. Our Japanese neighbors love gin dui very much. Every year I would be in Chinatown performing in Chinese dance troupe and my two brothers lion dance and drum.

trulyjoannies
trulyjoannies

This was informational and the photos are awesome!

Soos808
Soos808

@Melissa808 Hope to get down there this weekend, but now I know where to get my good luck char, if not! Mahalo for all the insider info. What's inside the siu gok? DH loves the peanut candy, and please leave some banana mochi for me?

guavarose
guavarose

What a great article! This make me so homesick and brings back so many memories. I remember going to Sing Cheong Yuan with my mother from the time I was very little. The tong guo from there tastes so much better than from anywhere else. My favorites were the coconut strips, and the peanut candy--mmm wish i could try the sesame-macadamia nut candy now! Thanks for all the visual candy. =)

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@harrycovair I avoided Chinatown this weekend because I knew people would be getting their last minute fix!

harrycovair
harrycovair

@bettydalycity Instead of using processed Brown Sugar, have you tried using the Chinese Block Brown Sugar? It's not as sweet as the "CandH" stuff so you might have to adjust your recipe for sweetness.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@Amy1 I think I also only got $1! And Fatt Gau? Where do I get that??

harrycovair
harrycovair

@CindySJ That's actually kind of true. Li See is usually given from an older person to a younger person. I'm not sure what the age limit is though.

My mother used to call me up to tell me come over to pick up my Li See. It was an Orange and a Tangerine (with stem and leaves) with the Li See in the middle. Supposed to put it by your bed (and I can't remember the reason why... oh oh, the tradition is fading).

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@CindySJ Thank you! Well, I think the gau is pronounced "goh" on the mainland, that's what my cousins call it. Cha goh, ever hear it like that? hmmmmm

Sad about the li see!!!!

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@BixbyHo Are you guys performing anywhere else? Happy new year, Chairman!!

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@bettydalycity Hi Betty! I was just telling someone about you because we were talking about Daly City. Where on Liliha? I used to live in a lane off Judd St. There used to be a market down by Kunawai Lane that made really good roast meats, but they've since retired. :(

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@trulyjoannies Thank you! Oh, you should be immersed in it now that you're back from Taiwan!

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@Soos808 The inside of the siu gok seems to be sugar & coconut, I think. Something good to have with coffee or tea. ooooh I'd have to share the banana mochi! That's another gallery for another time, I think.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@guavarose awww thank you! Where do you live now?

Yeah, my popo used to take me to Chinatown to mai soong with her when I was very little, as well. The items have changed a bit—I just ate their char siu bao & half moon, the other day, and it's different....made see yup style (see yups have a style?!). So I may have to eat my way through the bakery case to see what else is going on!

bettydalycity
bettydalycity

@harrycovair@bettydalycity I could but I always use some white sugar for like to tint fatt gao which look so pretty. I like the Chinese Brown Sugar (Wong Tong) for Nin Gao instead. Thank.

Amy1
Amy1

@Melissa808@Amy1

Well in San Francisco is common during CNY but not sure dim sum shops in Honolulu. It a Taishanese custom to make it.

BixbyHo
BixbyHo

@Melissa808 Town Center of Mililani on Saturday, Waipahu Festival Marketplace on Sunday, a cultural festival in Waikiki on Sunday afternoon and then a few dozen schools and businesses on Monday.

harrycovair
harrycovair

@Melissa808@bettydalycity A little bit off subject but the next time you're in Daly City Melissa, you can visit INOB * AND * Krispy Kreme since they're in the same parking lot, 260 Washington Street. Just saying.

Now back to our regularly scheduled discussion.

harrycovair
harrycovair

@Melissa808@bettydalycity Across the street from that Kunawai St. store used to have a Soda/Hamburger joint. Real Cherry Coke and real Vanilla Coke for a dime. Hamburger was a quarter. Now it's a Brush store or reseller.

Hah, could get a quarter worth of Chow Fun from Honda's too. But I digress.

guavarose
guavarose

@Melissa808@guavarose I live in Sacramento now. Someone mentioned the banana mochi--I forgot about those! Do they still make the long skinny rods (my favorite) and the cubes with the black bean paste?

The walnut candy-- I can still see it and hear Popo telling me it would make me smart....

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@harrycovair@BixbyHo I think because everyone NEEDED to have their stuff by Jan 23. People! You have 2 weeks to celebrate New Year!

BixbyHo
BixbyHo

@harrycovair@Melissa808 I opted for that new place in Aiea. I won't give the name because I don't want it to be 3 doors deep next year! :ep

BixbyHo
BixbyHo

@Melissa808 Honolulu Hale is on that list at like 12:30 p.m. in the event you're in the area...@anotherplate808 that means you too!

guavarose
guavarose

@harrycovair@Melissa808@bettydalycity

This reminds me that sometimes we would go to Royal Kitchen for an afterschool snack and order anywhere from 30-50 cents worth of chow mein, depending on how much money we had. Couple of doors down was the Icee store, and you could also get otter pops or popsicles for 10 cents. I remember sodas in the bottles too.

harrycovair
harrycovair

@Melissa808 @bettydalycity Yes. They'd put a small serving on a disposable plate or one of the Luau Trays. It wasn't really Chow Funn but the Hula Brand that had to be boiled first.

You folks used to buy Chocolate Milk or Soda's (in a bottle) on the Ewa side of the Kuakini Fire Department? Was only a dime back then.

bettydalycity
bettydalycity

@harrycovair@Melissa808 Well there a lot of families named Goo in San Francisco and you never know if that Norman and his sister family now in San Francisco. It still a small world.

harrycovair
harrycovair

@bettydalycity@Melissa808 That store at Panui and Liliha was the Goo's Store back then. The son, Norman, is a Dentist practicing on the mainland. I'm not sure where his sister is now.

guavarose
guavarose

 @harrycovair  @guavarose  @Melissa808 I thought so!!! I remember the sugar crusted peanuts-- I liked those too. So my memories are correct, they did taste better back then! Thanks for the info. By the way, I love to following you and seeing all the places you go to on twitter!

harrycovair
harrycovair

@guavarose @Melissa808 I just happened to run into one of the daughters of the original Shung Chong Yuien Bakery on Saturday afternoon. She confirmed my memory that they used to make ALL OF THEIR TONG GOI from scratch: Pineapple, Lotus Root, Coconut, Dong Gua (my fave!!!), Papaya, etc. The only item that they couldn't master was the Kumquat's. She said the kids used to go to the store after school. When the sugar syrup was ready all the kids would line up and start the process of making the various sugar treats. Now that I'm thinking about this, they used to make this sugar crusted Peanut Cluster. It was crunchy and sweet, not like the chewy Peanut Candy.

Amy1
Amy1

@Melissa808@harrycovair@guavarose My now late grandmother use to work at the Universtiy Ave one for Mr Kam the owner for a few years. It was a diner and snack place there. Many years ago his daughter open one at Liliha Sq where my aunt work there also for a short while till she quit the business move to Florida .

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@harrycovair@guavarose yeah, actually the quality has been declining for more than a decade....maybe 2 decades. I used to work at Crack Seed Center in Ala Moana in high school & college and even back then, we could see the quality of (for example) the shredded mango change dramatically. The dried fruits & vegetables didn't change as quickly, but you could definitely see the quality morph over time.

I don't think it has to do with supply & demand. As you can see from the last 2 weeks' of chaos in Chinatown, the demand is pretty healthy. It's just a matter of cutting costs, as the pakes always do.

harrycovair
harrycovair

@guavarose @Melissa808 I'll need to ask one of his son's if their father used to make his own Winter Melon Candy. I used to help lay out the candy in the drying pans but these were imported from China at that time I believe.

guavarose
guavarose

@harrycovair@Melissa808 Most of the tong go here is imported from Vietnam. It is not very good and I kept remembering how much better the tong go from Sing Chong Yuan tasted. Yes, Harrycovair,

much juicier and more flavorful. I thought the old owners used to make the tong go from scratch, did they?

harrycovair
harrycovair

@Melissa808@guavarose The new bakery, Sing Cheong Yuan, tries to duplicate some of the previous owner's recipes. I understand they are cousins.

The 2 Mochi rolls, the Black Sugar one with the Yellow Sugar and the Banana Roll taste the same as before to me. They introduced another Mochi dish recently. It's a simple Black Sugar filled mochi that has toasted Sesame Seeds on one side.

They still have the Peanut Candy and Macadamia Nut Candy, with and without Coconut Flakes.

The Tong Goi has changed from years past. I'm not sure if it's because of supply and demand that the quality has gone down or if another manufacturer is being used. It's all imported from Thailand. No crunchy Coconut Strips and the Winter Melon is not as juicy as I would like it.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@guavarose LOL! I don't think I've seen the brain candy...I probably blocked it out since I only learned to appreciate nuts in recent years. My mom used to make me eat fish as brain food.

guavarose
guavarose

@Melissa808@guavarose Do you remember ever seeing the walnut candy? They were dark brown (mashed dates I think) slices with walnuts and they looked like a cross section of a brain! My mom even referred to it as brain candy--maybe she was just teasing us kids. Too bad I didn't listen to them and eat some--I might have a few more brain cells now!

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@guavarose I'm 90% sure they have those cubes with the black bean paste. I should check. @CAPSUN brought a whole container of the long skinny rods of banana mochi to a gathering recently.

Funny, I never heard the story about the walnuts making you smart! I guess because I didn't really care for nuts when I was little, so it wasn't like they were going to make me eat it.

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