On February 5, millions of people around the world will celebrate the Lunar New Year. The festival runs for a week, but the biggest celebration takes place during the day of the new moon, generally sometime between January 21–February 20, a harbinger of an early spring.
The holiday literally translates to “Spring Festival” from Chinese, and is traditionally a time of joyous celebration for families and farmers after a long and often difficult winter. This event is marked by fireworks—set off to frighten bad spirits—red envelopes of money passed around, and, of course, family time and delicious food.
Here’s how to celebrate the Lunar New Year in Istanbul:
Decorate with red
During the lead up and the week of Lunar New Year, red lanterns, banners with gold characters, and delicate red paper cuttings pop up on every window, gateway, and door. They generally offer wishes of good fortune and prosperity.
Shop at the Chinese market
To dress up your house and prepare your kitchen, head to the only Chinese speciality markets in town, aptly named Çin Market, in Gümüşsuyu. Owned by a family from Fujian Province, you’ll find a range of authentic offerings in this tiny shop, from special soy sauces, cooking wines and chili peppers, to bamboo steam baskets, woks, and yes, even red paper lanterns to hang from your ceiling. Hariciye Konağı Sokak No. 3/A, Gümüşsuyu
All about food
Each country and each region of China has its own cuisine and specialties, so different families have varying traditions. In general, some type of dumpling will be on the table, the little packets of goodness seen to represent good fortune and good health. There will also be a fish, as fish represents prosperity (the word in Chinese also sounds the same as a word for prosperity). For dessert, there will be glutinous rice balls or sweet rice pudding. A bowl of tangerines are also generally displayed and served, representing good luck and success due to the homonym of its Chinese name.
Where to taste authentic Chinese cuisine
The Shangri La Bosphorus has one of the most authentic, exclusive Chinese restaurants in town: Shang Palace. In the kitchen, chefs hailing from a range of Chinese provinces cook up delicious—and often innovative—renditions of their hometown dishes. Reserve a round table like the Chinese do, and fill the table with friends and linger over a long, satisfying menu.
How to cook at home
If you’re feeling ambitious and want to try cooking Chinese dishes at home, chef Chen Lu from Shang Palace suggests starting with simple fried vegetable noodles.
While the ingredients may be few (julienned vegetables of your choice, spring onions, long noodles boiled until al dente and cooled, oil, soy sauce, sugar, salt, toasted sesame seeds), excellent fried noodles rely on a complex, smoky flavor called wok hei or huoqi. Translating literally to “breath of the wok,” noodles need to be cooked at an extremely high heat in either a wok or cast iron pan with a minimum of oil. The trick, says Chen Lu, is gradually heating your pan until it is scorching.
Once you’ve reached this point, add a small amount of oil along with thinly julienned vegetables, the combination is up to you. Sear the vegetables quickly, then remove and set aside. Add a little more oil to the pan, the add the room temperature long noodles. Moving them constantly, add just enough soy sauce, sugar, salt, and water to keep the noodles moist. Make sure to not overcrowd the pan.
Once the noodles are warm through and a little singed, add the cooked vegetables back into the pot and toss gently, with a little more fresh spring onion. Pour into a bowl, top with toasted sesame seeds, and enjoy. The whole cooking process generally takes about five minutes.