By Brigette Williams :: Photography by Jamison Mosley
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]aturday, January 28th begins the 2017 Chinese New Year of the Rooster. Considered the most motivated animal in the Chinese zodiac, people who are ‘Roosters’ make their careers a priority. They are hard-working, resourceful and talented. While Lulu Chi, matriarch of the Chi’s culinary empire, is not a Rooster, she exemplifies many of the attributes. First and foremost is her love of family and respect for traditions. AY asked Mama Chi, as she is affectionately known, to share her Chinese New Year memories from Taipei to Little Rock.
What comes to mind about Chinese New Year as a child? My childhood memories of New Year celebrations include observing the streets and the Chinese New Year Parade in Taipei. We always celebrated Chinese New Year at Grandpa (Yeh Yeh) and Grandma’s (Nai Nai) home in Taipei until we migrated to the United States. The streets in Taipei were lined with red printed screens of Chinese characters and rows and rows of firecrackers to scare away the evil spirits! The parade always included the dragon dance, lots of drums, floats and marching bands. As the Chinese dragon paraded by, we would throw firecrackers at the dragon’s feet. This was symbolic to help the dragon fly to bring spring rain for crops for our farmers.
What are your favorite foods to celebrate the New Year? It was, and still is, always important to have at least a seven-course meal during Chinese New Year. The number of courses is important – for example, courses should be odd numbers, seven instead of eight courses. Desserts are important too. The favorite foods and must-haves are always noodles for long life; dumplings for family unity; and one of the last courses is always fish to symbolize abundance and happiness.
Did you help prepare celebration dishes as a child? We always helped Nai Nai and the women in the household prepare food for the Chinese New Year celebration. Making dumplings was especially fun as we all sat around the kitchen tables together. My husband Bill’s family and our ancestors hail from the Northern Province of Tsingtao. The families who live in this part of China are known for making dumplings of all kinds. My husband always leads us during New Year’s Day to make homemade wrappers with all different types of filings for dumplings – very, very delicious!
What is your most memorable Chinese New Year dinner? It would be a New Year dinner celebrating with our parents in Taipei, when my husband and I were still quite young. We had only one child, Jasen, at that time. We gathered with our parents, along with my husband’s three other siblings and their children in Taipei. Chinese New Year in Taipei is most festive with lots of celebration. Grandchildren always dressed in their best as we celebrated over New Year Dinner. More than even Christmas, it was the one special holiday during the year when we were able to see all family members.
How will you celebration the Chinese New Year in 2017? We will celebrate this year with our immediate family, including our two sons, Jasen and Jacob, and their families. Just as importantly, we will also celebrate with our extended family of employees and their families in the restaurants we operate.
What traditions are you teaching your grandchildren? We teach them the importance of family unity and supporting each other. We teach them to respect and honor our ancestors. Chinese New Year celebrates a tradition of ‘cleaning our homes’ and asking our ancestors to bless us with an upcoming year of success. We pray thanks for abundance of blessings. We teach our children and grandchildren that this time is a time for revitalization and regeneration. Our gathering for feasting honors the sanctity of family.
What are your favorite foods to cook for the grandchildren? In addition to dumplings, the grandchildren especially enjoy Nian Gao or New Year Rice Cakes.
Do you listen to music when cooking? When my husband and I cook, we often listen to Kitaro and his play of Asian instruments, as well as jazz trumpeter, Chris Botti.