happy new year 2014!

I know . . . I know. No more radio silence! I promise we have some toasty specials for you this Chinese New Year . . . the weather’s unforgiving, but you won’t regret it. Good food solves everything. 🙂

From 30 January until 2 February (ahem, I know that’s tomorrow), we’ve got some brand spankin’ new specials to ring in the lunar new year. Check ’em out!

Mei Shung's Chinese New Year 2014 specials menu

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2013 is the year of the snake

water snake

Since I posted rather extensively last year about the history of Chinese New Year (also known as the Spring Festival), you can refer to those posts, or this other (non-Wikipedia) article I found, to learn about the holiday or brush up on your trivia:

what to eat on chinese new year

happy new year

china holidays

Just for fun and variety, I thought we could go into another fun aspect that the (lunar) new year brings: the Chinese zodiac!

Currently, we’re still in the year of the dragon, but as this year comes to a close, the Chinese are preparing for little snake babies. Incidentally, I found out through reading Jeff Primack’s Mastering 5 Elements that the Chinese believe so strongly in their zodiac and “mystical” things of this nature that there are times of the year where sales of birth control-related goods skyrocket and also when they go dry. This is probably less so for given animals, but more so in the less-known elemental phases of the earth:

metal

metal

Fire

Fire

tree
tree

water
water

earth
earth

These five elements are what the book Mastering 5 Elements is based upon, but instead of “tree,” some sources prefer to use the term “wood.” Now, Chinese astrology can actually get pretty complex, integrating the elements with each animal sign (of which there are 12 — see picture below) with Chinese philosophy (yin and yang), medicine, and divination (for long-winded, more thorough explanations, see this article). This is a lot to swallow for those of us accustomed to simple astrological signs and traits (like me), so I won’t go into it. Suffice it to say that the elements and animal signs overlap, creating a sort of “compound” sign.

So this year, we are entering the age of the water snake. Coincidentally, this is the exact same time my mother was born.

According to chinesezodiac.com, the Water Snake is:

influential, motivated, insightful, and highly intellectual … These snakes work well with others and enjoy being recognized and rewarded. They’ll reveal feelings to those closest to them, but no one else.

If you’re curious to know more about Chinese astrology, there are plenty of books and Internet sources to calculate precisely what sign your birthdate fell under. (I, personally, am a water boar.)

I’ll leave you with this well-wishing Chinese New Year 2013 video (not ours):

(holiday) mid-autumn festival

This Sunday is the Mid-Autumn Festival (a.k.a. Moon Festival) — which means it’s time for moon cake!

You also should know by now that Chinese festivals come equipped with legends to explain the customs surrounding the festival. So, the story behind the Moon Festival is rather tragic and romantic (much like Double Seven “Chinese Valentine’s Day”), which I learned all about via this Chinese tourism website.

The Moon Festival occurs on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, which this year falls on 30 September. It takes its name from the fact that it is always celebrated during the time of year that the moon is at its roundest and fullest. Families gather to eat together and share well wishes with each other and the members that are far away.

The Story

Rumor has it that waaay back in the day, the planet was insufferably hot due to Earth’s having 10(!!!) suns. Naturally, circumstances called for a hero — a man worthy of myth — and a guy named Hou Yi stepped up and shot down nine of the 10 suns — huzzah!

Of course, this attracted admirers from far and wide to learn from him and acquire those mad “skillz.”

Hou Yi then also met a lovely woman named Chang E who would become his wife. They lived very happily, and things were good until one day when Hou Yi decided to step out to meet a friend. . . .

It seems nothing good ever comes from stories that involve Wangmu, the queen of the heavens (remember what she did to her daughter?). So Hou Yi runs into the Goddess of Heaven, who’s all, “Check out this elixir I’ve got for you. This is what those fools over on Mount Olympus could’ve used instead of sending that Hercules guy after all those crazy tasks — drink it, and you’ll become immortal! And you’ll be sent up to my turf.”

So, you know that whenever there’s a hero, there’s always a Judas. A guy who had come from afar to learn shooting “skillz” from Hou Yi back in the day, Peng Meng, just so happened to see what his old mentor did next.

Because he loved his wife Chang E so much, he went home with the elixir and told her, “Honey, the Goddess of Heaven gave me this herself. It’ll send whoever drinks it up to heaven and make ’em immortal. I’ll let you hold on to it for safekeeping.”

Three fateful days later, Hou Yi went out for a hunt, and Peng Meng broke in to their house, where the wife was. “Yo Chang!” he barked. “You give me that elixir!”

Knowing she was no match for his strength, she was forced to drink the elixir herself to keep it away from the brute.

As soon as she downed it, she shot straight through the window and straight for the heavens — but her love for her hubby drew her to the closest heavenly body to Earth, the moon.

“CHANG E!!!!” Hou Yi cried to the sky, when he realized what had transpired.

To his amazement, he saw a figure that looked just like his wife appear from the moon.

He then took all the food he knew she liked and brought it to an altar to offer as a sacrifice to her. To offer him emotional consolation and support, neighbors lit incense and made food to commemorate his kind and lovely wife, year after year.

The Food

So, of course the most iconic culinary tribute to the Moon Festival is the moon cake. From the aforementioned travel site, they are described like this:

The moon cake is a kind of cookie with various fillings and on the surface are printed different artistic patterns depicting the story of Chang E flying to the moon. People treated this kind of food as one of the sacrificial offerings to the moon in the old days. Today, it has become an indispensable food while appreciating the bright moon for every family. Moon cakes come in various flavors which change according to the region but common fillings are nuts, sugar, sesame, ham and egg yolk. Travel China Guide

The moon cake is also round, naturally, which represents the reunion of a family, but nowadays, moon cake is also gifted between friends and family alike to wish each other a long and happy life. Some customs include paying respect to the moon itself or doing dragon dances.

Now, I asked my mother if we ever had moon cake here for the day of the festival, and she said no — but she’ll certainly change her mind if enough of you ask her for it!

(Incidentally, you can also make it yourself with this recipe I found.)

What do you think? Would you like to preorder some moon cake for Sunday? If so, drop me a comment here, on Facebook, or give us a call at 773/728.5778 and let us know.

Have a delicious day!

gonna party like it’s duanwu festival . . . just kidding

Here’s a fun story.

The Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated in China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia, is coming up. . . . My mom suggested I research the holiday last week to tell you about, but apart from telling me it involved boat races in long boats that looked like dragons, I was once again left with the instructions to look it up myself and report to you guys.

She told me it was on 4 April, but as it turns out that is just her crude way of saying “fourth day of the fourth month,” which apparently isn’t even the case. HAHAHA. Apparently also known as the Double Fifth, the Dragon Boat Festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth month on, naturally, the lunar calendar. (Incidentally, the fourth of the fourth is a different holiday — a Taiwanese one — celebrating children. I’m sure you’ll hear about it next year.)

Anyway, after I clarified just now that the Duanwu Festival (as it’s known in Mandarin) is actually the Double Fifth, we realized it’s a bit premature to start yapping about it now, since it isn’t until 25 MAY. (“Oh, I can’t keep my Chinese holidays straight,” she says. “I’ve lived here too long.”)

Thanks, Mom. Now I can go get ready to go to my other job. 😉

Rest assured, though, that I’ll be back with timely Duanwu Festival information in May.