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Shanghai New Year's dinner.

Usher in the year 4692 with a menu of good omens

WHEN YOU WALK INTO Sue Yung Li's home to celebrate Chinese New Year--which begins on February 10 this year and lasts two weeks--she stacks the deck in favor of good fortune. Symbols of luck, wealth, long life, and prosperity surround her guests.

She capitalizes on her dramatic flair as a filmmaker and landscape architect to display these omens. A shower of coins covers the thick rug, baskets of gold-wrapped sweets shine, red ribbons bind the stems of white narcissus, and branches of red quince blossoms mass in profusion.

Coins and shiny wrappers portend wealth. Sprouting bulbs represent new life; red is the color of happiness. Homonyms are also omens; in Li's Shanghai dialect, the word for tangerine sounds like the one for good luck.

Hot pot menus Li serves during this two-week period reinforce the symbolism. Although hot pot dishes are common in China for cold winter days, they are particularly significant at New Year's because food shared from the round pot, at a circular table, surrounded by family and friends emphasizes unity and togetherness.

Foods also have special meaning.

Want a raise? Eat spring rolls because they look (sort of) like gold bars, or eggs because their yolks are golden. Want silver? Slurp shiny transparent noodles because they resemble silver chains.

Wish for prosperity? Eat fish; in Shanghainese, fish is yu, which also sounds like the word for surplus and abundance.

Looking for new opportunities? Cook clams and hope they pop open.

Time to expand the business? Green vegetables represent healthy growth.

Want enough to eat? Finish the meal with felicity rice; it's short-grain white rice cooled and seasoned with sliced Chinese sausage (lop chong) and green-stem (Shanghai) or baby bok choy. This dish ensures a full belly for the year to come.

For happy relationships, present foods on round plates.

If you have a traditional charcoal-burning Chinese hot pot with a chimney in the center, you can use it for this meal--with certain precautions. You must have plenty of fresh air ventilation, and you must sit the unit in a rimmed container of cool water so the pot will not scorch or burn the table.

An easier arrangement, which Li uses, is a pan on a portable burner. Or use an electric wok or frying pan.

As guests do their own cooking, they need easy access to the cooking pan, and six is the optimum number for comfort. But this meal readily multiplies if you duplicate the setup.

Many foods can be prepared in advance. Li freezes the thinly sliced meats, arranged in overlapping circles, ahead, ready to pull out for instant parties. Chinese condiments are staples in her kitchen. Asian markets sell wire skimmers and baskets.

For each person, allow about 1/4 pound total of meat, fish (plus 2 clams in shell), poultry, or tofu, and 1/4 pound vegetables. Buy spring rolls and the cookies.


Spring Rolls Shanghai Hot Pot for 6 Felicity Rice Warm Shaoxing (Chinese Rice Wine) Sesame Cookies Tangerines Iron Goddess of Mercy Tea

Shanghai Hot Pot for 6

1/4 pound boned and fat-trimmed pork loin or tenderloin

1/4 pound boned and skinned chicken breast

1/4 pound fat-trimmed beef flank steak

1/4 pound skinned and boned white-fleshed fish

1/3 pound large (31 to 35 per lb.) shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 pound squid mantles (optional)

About 1/2 pound bean thread (sai fun or cellophane) noodles

12 small hard-shell clams, suitable for steaming, scrubbed

6 small brown eggs

1 carton (about 14 oz.) firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 pound napa cabbage, cut into thin shreds

1/2 pound spinach, stems removed, rinsed and drained

6 ounces chrysanthemum greens, tough stems trimmed, rinsed and cut into 2-inch lengths

6 green onions, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch lengths

Fresh cilantro (coriander) sprigs and/or red radishes

Condiments (choices follow)

3 1/2 to 5 quarts regular-strength chicken broth

Freeze pork, chicken, beef, and fish until firm but not completely frozen, 1 to 1 1/2 hours; thinly slice foods across the grain (if cutting ahead, arrange slightly overlapping slices on waxed paper-lined round plates; freeze until hard, then transfer meat on paper to freezer bags; seal and freeze up to 2 weeks). Cut shrimp in 1/2 lengthwise. Cut squid mantles in 1/2 lengthwise and crosswise; score each piece lightly in a crosshatch pattern. Arrange pork, chicken, beef, fish (freshly cut or frozen), shrimp, and squid in overlapping circles on round plates; group each food together. If arranging ahead, cover plates and chill up to 1 day.

Soak noodles in hot water to cover until pliable, about 10 minutes. Drain well. Arrange noodles, clams, eggs, tofu, cabbage, spinach, chrysanthemum greens, and onions on platters. If arranging ahead, cover containers and chill up to 1 day. At each table setting, arrange a small plate, small bowl, spoon, chopsticks, and small wire basket with handle.

Uncover foods, garnish with cilantro or radishes, and place on table. Gather condiments onto a small tray.

Fill a wide, handsome 5- to 8-quart pan about 2/3 with broth; in kitchen, bring to boiling over high heat. Place on a portable burner in table center; turn heat high. In kitchen, in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart pan, keep remaining broth, covered, hot over low heat; as liquid in pan at table concentrates, replenish with the extra broth.

Pass condiments, inviting each guest to mix a dipping sauce to taste in the small bowl. Using wire baskets or chopsticks, each person adds a few bites of food at a time to boiling broth. Most foods are ready in 1 to 2 minutes: meats and fish should be opaque in the center, greens should be wilted, and other foods should be hot; clams may take 10 minutes to open (discard if they don't). Lift foods from broth, dip into sauce, and eat; repeat as desired.

Add more hot broth to pan as needed. To poach eggs, crack, 1 at a time, into a large ladle; immerse in broth until as firm as you like. Slide or scoop egg into a sauce bowl. Ladle rich broth and remaining tidbits into sauce bowl; eat and sip. Serves 6.

Per serving: 514 cal. (32 percent from fat); 45 g protein; 18 g fat (4.2 g sat.); 44 g carbo.; 317 mg sodium; 240 mg chol.

Condiments: Pour into small bowls or pitchers 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup Oriental sesame oil, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1/2 cup rice wine, and 1/4 cup chili oil. Put 1 cup fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves in a small bowl.
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Title Annotation:includes menu and recipe
Author:Anusasananan, Linda Lau
Date:Feb 1, 1994
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