Tomorrow is the Lunar New Year, celebrated by Chinese all over the world. That makes today The Day for the Reunion Dinner for Chinese families.
Until my paternal grandparents both passed away, reunion dinners were held with them. They were not formal dinners, but it was important to show up and eat. As my Dad had a large family, there were plenty of uncles and aunties and cousins about during those occasions.
Mom used to prepare food for the first day of the Lunar New Year for the hordes of relatives. They all came over. Her preparation would start weeks in advance!
She’d make Chinese sausages, and I used to get finger and hand cramps cutting up the meat for the sausages – using a meat grinder would not achieve the right texture, so everything had to be sliced and diced. Then we would help Mom “pump” the marinated meat into gut sleeves. “Pump” is the correct word because Mom had a huge syringe custom-made out of aluminium or something. We put all the marinated meat in the end of the syringe, stuck the pointed end of the syringe into the gut opening, and “pushed” the end of the syringe. I remember the meat would slip in and the gut swell out with a woosh and gurgle. Then we would measure and tie off the sausage lengths before hanging them out to dry. And the house would smell of drying sausage for many days.
On the first day of Lunar New Year, in addition to the Chinese sausage, we would have steamed chicken, steamed fish, soup with lotus root, stuffed vegetables and beancurd (niang toufu), braised pork, vegetables. The table would be full of good food, and everyone would tuck in. For the meal itself, all I can remember contributing was carrying the dishes out, and laying the table. I was never considered good enough to help with making or cooking the food! Some of the aunts came early and helped with the cooking, and they all helped with the washing up, so I was really let off easy.
It’s been a long time since Mom did major cooking like that. And no way will I prepare a meal with so many “made from scratch” items. So some traditions die off, and remain only in memory.