The Chinese Lunar New Year is the most important and longest of the traditional Chinese Festivals. On February 12th the Year of the Rat will be behind us and the incoming Year of the Ox promises some sense of optimism from a year dominated with health and economic crisis.
The Ox Years are: 1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021.
Chinese Year of the Ox starts on February 12, 2021 and will end on January 31, 2022. Predominant characteristics of the Ox are stability, loyalty, resilience and patience.
Lucky foods are served during the 16-day festival, which are believed to bring good luck for the coming year. In preparation for culinary festivities, I visited Lee Asian Market in Naples to stock up on my Asian favorites.
If you’ve never shopped at an Asian market before, this is a good time to go. They offer a wide variety of quintessential foods and goods imported from many Asian countries. There are teas, noodles, condiments, sauces, and fresh produce – some you’ve never seen or have been afraid to ask what they are. The experience can be quite daunting with aisles of exotic ingredients with packaging in foreign languages – but it is FUN and a great cultural experience.
If this is your first time to visit an Asian market, I suggest that you make a list and narrow your items to ones you are familiar with. During your visit, if you see something in someone’s basket that you are not familiar with simply ask: “What’s that and how are you going to use it?” Also, store employees love to share how ingredients are best used.
Another suggestion is to take with you an easy recipe for a Chinese stir fry dish with noodles and have fun picking out authentic ingredients using Asian produce and sauces.
I have a list of basic sauces which I use over and over such as: light and dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil (toasted) and Chinese cooking wine. For the sesame oil make sure the label says, “pure sesame oil”. For the soy sauce if the label just says soy sauce it is all–purpose.
I also prefer my rice vinegar from the Asian store, and I use it from salad dressings to sauces and marinades – it’s not as acidic as Western vinegars. Many are also available at most grocery stores and I stay with the Japanese brands: Mizkan, Marukan or Kikkoman. Larger bottles are less expensive at Asian markets.
Rice is a pantry staple and you’ll find basmati, jasmine, black, brown, short, long grain and other varieties. My special favorite is imperial black rice for pudding but for daily use, I stay with the sweet sticky gelatinous rice also called sushi rice.
Asians love noodles and Asian markets offer a dizzying variety. Noodles are divided into three types: wheat, rice, and glass or “cellophane.” You can serve them in hot or cold broth, stir–fried, deep–fried, cold or hot. I usually stock up on basic noodles such as Chow Mein and Low Mein and take home fresh noodles, if available. Rice vermicelli noodles are great mixed in salads. Cellophane or glass noodles are great with stir fries. Egg noodles are used in most Cantonese dishes. Soba and Udon noodles are yummy Japanese noodles – great in soups or served chilled with dipping sauces.
The frozen section also offers delicious steamed buns, dumplings, egg rolls, egg roll wrappers and ice cream in delicious exotic flavors.
The meat section offers specialty meats like oxtail, tripe, chicken feet (for soup stock), beef tongue and even frog legs and Korean style beef short ribs.
On the way out, check out the tea section. They have loose or bagged varieties: green, black, and other flavors. I suggest starting with a small package if you are not familiar with the brand.
If you feel like having a culinary Asian experience, check out Lee Asian Market located at 1056 Pine Ridge Road, Naples, or any Asian Markets nearby.
Gung hay fat choy (Cantonese) ~ “wishing you great happiness and prosperity.”