Updated: Jan 27, 2022
I have vivid memories of leaving school early to celebrate Lunar New Year at Chinatown in New York City. My maternal Grandmother would pack us into her apartment on Mott Street with the bursting smells of Chinese and Burmese delicacies. The streets were filled with kids like me smacking firecrackers onto the ground. A visit was never complete without raiding the ground floor market my Grandmother also owned to grab Asian candies and snacks I never saw growing up in South Jersey.
In addition to the incredible feast my Grandmother and aunties prepared - my favorites were the baked red bean buns (dousha bao) and sticky rice dumplings stuffed with red bean paste wrapped in banana leaves (zongzi), there were so many other dishes I vaguely recall because I was a picky eater as a child and then turned vegetarian at 13. (I later became vegan at 28.) This is a good reminder to add these two menu items to our ever-growing R&D list at P.S. & Co.!
My relatives made it rain with red envelopes for all of my cousins, siblings and me! Whenever I whined about not receiving an abundance of Christmas presents, my parents' quickly quipped: "You get Chinese New Year." They were right. Christmas wasn't our holiday, but Chinese New Year (and Thanksgiving) were our family's traditions to celebrate and feast.
After our Grandmother passed, the large family gatherings ceased. She was the matriarch and glue that bound us all together. I wish I had known her better. Grandmother immigrated to Burma in the early 1900's from China. During WWII, when the Japanese invaded Burma, she trekked by foot through snow-capped mountains with her children to safety. After it was safe, they returned to Burma to my Grandfather.
In Rangoon, Burma, my Grandfather built a medical compound business which grew into a distribution enterprise. He was the original creator of a famous medical balm which sold to a Hong Kong company, now known as Tiger Balm today. I wish I had known him, too. He passed before I was born.
Chinese New Year celebrations are now spent at home, and I think of my Grandparents when I'm cooking and "veganizing" old favorites. I wish they could taste test my vegan versions, so I could witness their reactions. They would be honest and not sugar-coat anything - which I love!
There are many symbolic ingredients and dishes that represent Lunar New Year - and Chinese New Year in particular. I won't list them here because the internet already does a better job than I will!
One of the primary dishes are to have a noodle dish to represent a long life. Here's a dish I make for staff, family and guests who know me and enjoy expanding their palate!
I call this the Burmese Noodle Salad, but it's a dish I made up and has no origin from Burma other than the end flavors remind me of Burmese noodle dishes my mom used to make for us.
1 package of brown rice Pad Thai noodles (Lotus Foods make great varieties - choose your own adventure). Cook noodles in salted water until al dente and drain from water.
1-2 cups of pico de gallo (we make our own which is an eye-ball-measured mix of chopped peppers, chilis, onion, garlic, tomato, lime juice, cilantro, and salt). This is an estimate depending on how wet your pico de gallo is. Do not recommend using jarred versions because they will be gummy and not liquidy enough to coat the noodles.
1-2 Tbsp. of chili sesame oil (add as little or as much as you prefer). We make our own chili sesame oil by heating up garlic and salt in sesame oil, then throwing in lots of red chili flakes until the oil starts to bubble and becomes frothy. Remove from heat. Do not overcook or overheat because it will easily burn. Cook on low-med heat.
1 cup of chopped green onions/scallions
1/2 cup of chopped, roasted peanuts
1-2 Tbsp. Toasted sesame seeds
2 cups of chopped cilantro
1 cup of Burmese fried onions (shallow fry julienned onion in good olive oil and salt)
Add these toppings to the cooked noodles in the order listed above to ensure the crispy toppings stay crispy and on top.
Toss and enjoy! Feel free to add or reduce the toppings to your liking, but I recommend these approximate ratios. I never measure when I cook, but these are close measurements!
The spicy, tangy and salty flavors sum up the cuisine of Yunnan China where my father is from and northern Burma where my mother grew up. I never tire of how food evokes memories, traditions and love. I wish you all a Happy Lunar New year on February 1st and hope you enjoy trying this special dish. Xo- Andrea