7 Unique Things To Do During Chinese New Year 2021 In Hong Kong
Get ready to celebrate Chinese New Year the DIY way with some unexpected new ideas, from an at-home poon choi to recycled red envelopes
Sweep or sleep
As tradition dictates, it is best to clean the house well before the new year begins (on February 12) in order to sweep out the old and usher in the new. The “big sweep” day typically takes place two days before the festival in order to make sure a home is sparkling and ready to receive guests. (Cleaning on the first few days after the new year risks sweeping all the incoming good luck out the door.)
Considering friends and relatives may not be too keen to visit this year, why not book a staycation package that comes with dining deals and banquets from hotels like the Rosewood or the Peninsula, where the sweeping is done for you instead?
The new feast
In traditional Guangdong cuisine, before and on the first day of Chinese New Year, a casserole of cabbages, wood ear fungi, mushrooms, beans and glass noodles is cooked with fermented bean curd and served in clay pots. People typically abstain from eating meat and consume inexpensive vegetables as a way to pray for blessings for a good start of the year. But the emperor’s casserole was a decadent feast of expensive ingredients. During the Song Dynasty (AD960 to 1279), when Mongolia invaded China, Emperor Bing escaped to Guangdong province and the north of Hong Kong, where villagers gathered seafood and seasonal produce in washbasins to feed the emperor and his army.
Today, poon choi, or “basin casserole”, contains fish maw, dried oysters, abalone, prawns, chicken and duck, and has become a symbol of unity and prosperity in the New Territories’ walled villages. With meatless meat now widespread in Hong Kong thanks to retailers like Green Common, try creating your own unique casserole recipe with plant-based ingredients this year.
Steam some cakes
Traditional new year cakes are made with glutinous rice flour that gives a dense and sticky texture. The classic version of the recipe combines brown sugar and sometimes dates for sweetness. Its Chinese name, nin go, is a pun on the words “annual rise”, which is said to imbue the dish with wishes for prosperity. Water chestnut puddings are also sweet and known for their clear yellow jade colour. The savoury versions are taro cakes and turnip cakes, which use radishes and Chinese sausages. While away an afternoon by recreating these homey flavours in your kitchen.
Apart from pumpkin seeds and pistachios, there are a lot of traditional regional snacks sold in the annual flower market at Victoria Park and in old-fashioned snack shops. Haw flake candy, made with Chinese hawberries; cow’s ear biscuits, made with red bean curd; and fried golden sesame dough from Guangdong are all popular choices. Get inventive by making custom candied fruits yourself, or filling the sesame dough with red bean paste or other flavours.
Packets of health
Red packets are a common sight at new year, bearing cash and well wishes for an array of people. Married family members give them out to children as a symbolic gesture of blessing (and extra pocket money). In the workplace, bosses give them to employees as encouragement for harmony. In return, recipients offer well wishes. With the extra expenditure on face masks required by all this year, giving out red packets that contain some might be a practical and fun twist. Besides, you can design the red packets as a reusable face mask envelope to add a little sustainability to your gifting.
The classic decoration of Chinese New Year is fai chun, red banners adorned with couplets expressing good wishes or the word fok (“blessing”). Some like to invert the banner, since “inversion” sounds similar to “arrival” in Cantonese, so they wish for the early arrival of good luck. Other phrases heard are kung hei fat choi (“happiness and prosperity”) among relatives, or hok yip jun bo (“improvement in studies”) for kids. Since this is the time to be out with the old and in with the new, here’s a chance to come up with sassy four-word phrases to tease friends. In modern Hong Kong, university students’ slang guo saam bao sei (“passing a GPA of 3 and reaching a GPA of 4”) is seen printed on red packets as a new year wish.
Plant some love
February 14 marks Valentine’s Day in the West, whereas Chinese New Year is considered an auspicious day to tie the knot in the East. Not looking for that kind of commitment? Give loved ones some flowers. Peach blossoms represent a good match or booming business; peonies stand for prosperity; daffodils mean joy; nipplefruit represent wishes for big families; and flaming Katy flowers symbolise longevity. Drop by the flower market in Prince Edward to take your pick.