When I visited the Osaka supermarket last week, the store was resplendent with reminders that Chinese New Year was coming up. Staff wore shiny red Chinese jackets. Decorations festooned the front of the store; hanging red lanterns, ornaments of fish and other golden figures dripping with red tassels, bamboo plants of all sizes, many with tiny hanging red lanterns, filled pots on the floor, cherry blossoms everywhere. The counters were overflowing with products brought in especially for the new year: large boxes of chocolates, candies, cookies and cakes; toys, banks and serving dishes all wrapped in red; different types of rice cakes; fortune cookies. And, most curious of all, right at the entry to the store, was a huge pile of mandarin oranges each one wrapped in cellophane. They told me that the oranges are wrapped individually so that they, like the packaged candies and cakes, can be given away when visiting family and friends at the new year.
With all this visual stimulation, it struck me that a dinner party we planned for the old gang could be a Chinese New Year celebration. That would save my husband doing the cooking, and would be fun. It would also give me a purpose for exploring the Asian supermarket.
For appetizers, we choose a range of finger food: shrimp crackers which are light and crunchy and proved very popular, some seasoned seaweed (wasabi and kimchi) which is not exactly Chinese but at least it is Asian, some “Magic Chili” made of dried chili and peanuts which is remarkably tasty, some dried peas and some spicy kale. That and a taste of Yanjing Chinese beer, de-alcoholized or not, to whet the appetite.
The main course was a buffet that would appeal to people with a variety of tastes. We chose some standard Chinese favourites from Osaka. Then added a couple of platters of sushi and maki. This is not Chinese, but Osaka featured sushi as part of their Chinese New Year promotion so it must be okay, right? Then a tomato salad, a crispy Chinese salad, and a platter of barbecue.
For dessert, we had the oranges, some pineapple, figs and ginger, an assortment of Chinese cookies, and two types of rice cake. Heated and then cut into small pieces as the Osaka sampling lady had recommended, the rice cake was rich and tasty. We learned that a little goes a long way. And with long stems of curly-topped bamboo with their tiny red lanterns to take home, we were all set. The bamboo, by the way, was $2.92 for ten long stems.
Happy Year of the Horse everyone. May the year bring the speedy success the horse signifies.