If I were not a vegetarian, for the lunar New Year my parents would have cooked me a feast of all varieties of meat and seafood. I was born and raised in a big city in China, and my family dinner table was not short of meat, if we wanted to have it. But I also recall my parents telling me how important meat was to them when they were young. Then, meat would not have been the center of the New Year feast’not because they didn’t want it, but because they could not afford much. My mother told me in vivid detail how excited she was to get a share of the ribs that were split among the entire family. The same was true of my dad’s family: they divided the meat according to the birth order of the siblings and that of the older generation. As a child during the New Year festival, I remember clearly how the entire family would wait at the dinner table for freshly cooked crabs, shrimps, and other kinds of seafood, along with meatball soup, and duck, chicken, beef, and pork dishes.
On the New Year’s Eve dinner table, meat and seafood are the kind of staple foods that are indispensable to calling the meal a New Year feast. (In Brighter Green’s documentary film, What’s for Dinner?, Mr. Wang, a young entrepreneur building a new, larger pig farm, was happy to have increased business during the Spring Festival.) Vegetable dishes usually came at the very end’when everyone was satisfied with the meat feast and just needed a bit of greens to balance out their meals. If you eat out in China for the New Year, you’re likely to be presented with a menu that lists fancy items of seafood paired with information about their health benefits, plus rare varieties of meat, often with a foreign name such as “Alaska beef.” I live in Boston now. I didn’t really celebrate the recent Chinese New Year there, since I was afraid that Chinese dinner parties would be full of meat and seafood treats. Rejecting these would disrupt the festive atmosphere and be disrespectful to the host’s hospitality. So instead I had dinner at a homey Pakistani restaurant. (Read about and see pictures of vegan lunar New Year foods here.) This New Year, the Year of the Rabbit, I munched on, and enjoyed, aloo gobi and rice.
Photo: Flickr/avyxlz photostream