Recipe: rui tsai (lucky ten ingredient vegetable)
Chinese New Year fast approaches and it is time to prepare for the festivities which almost always revolve around food. When I was growing up in Southern Virginia, I hated being Chinese because I looked different from everyone else. We ate food that was completely foreign to my friends. My parents spoke to (yelled at) me in Chinese in front of my friends and I just wanted to disappear. I endured plenty of teasing and bullying because, well… kids are assholes. I did everything in my power to avoid being seen in public with my parents. I wanted so badly to be Not Me.
I won’t bore you with my path to accepting my identity, but once I was there and donned my status as an ABC (American Born Chinese) you couldn’t stop me. Happiness comes from within and baby, I got it. That’s not to say that living the balance between western and eastern cultures is easy, but I’ve come to embrace what I used to reject as a child. Okay, I could do without the constant *guilt* in the never-ending quest to be a Good Chinese Daughter, but otherwise I have to say my Chinese culture enriches my life and I’m glad for it.
Which leads me to the food and superstitions and traditions. There is a veritable boat load of foods you eat for the Lunar New Year and each one means something! I am probably familiar with a mere fraction of them. My family does a giant hot pot filled with ingredients that all signify good things: money, health, happiness, luck, promotion, success, more money… You get the idea. Dumplings, as I’ve mentioned before, are supposed to represent money and in some instances having sons, but let’s not go there. Tofu is luck. Rice cake means a “higher” (better) year. A whole fish means happy starts and endings (head and tail, get it?). Eat something sweet first thing on New Year’s Day so sweet things come out of your mouth all year (I can hear the guffaws of all of my friends…). And there is a lucky ten ingredient vegetable dish called rui tsai. Ten is the lucky number. Eat this dish and all good things will come to you in the new year.