By Assunta Ng
When I was a child, I followed some silly Lunar New Year traditions. My family wouldn’t bathe on the first day because in Chinese culture, it is believed that all your wealth will be washed away. We wouldn’t clean our house either, because we’d be doomed to lose our fortune.
But there’s a fine line between traditions and superstition. Looking back, it was more of the latter that my parents and I were scared of taking a bath on that “first holy day” of the New Year.
It’s foolish to follow traditions blindly. How can you be happy when you live with unnecessary restrictions on your life? Sure, I can skip cleaning my home because I am lazy, but skipping a shower, no way. I have been showering on New Year’s day for decades. Maybe, that’s the cause of all my poverty!
There are also rules on food during the Lunar New Year. The types of food you eat are supposed to bring you luck and happiness. Take oysters for instance, it is said that a stewed vegetable dish with dried oyster will bring you good luck because the name of the dish is a homophone of “making money and good things”.
Unfortunately, I hate dried oysters. I don’t mind having dried oyster soup, which is delicious, but to actually put one into my mouth would be a battle of resistance from my heart and mouth.
“Well, if you want good fortune,” my late grandma would say, “you have to eat at least one during the Lunar New Year.”
I used to gulp down one dried oyster in front of her as a gesture of obedience, rather than out of fear of not having wealth.
What grandma didn’t know though is that her granddaughter has a rebellious streak — she’ll be good at breaking the rules when she gets old. Why can’t I create my own lucky dinner for New Years?
I guess if I want good things to happen for the newspapers, I better have an oyster dish. But why use dried oysters when you can have fresh ones?
When I was in Hawaii in January, one oyster dish listed in a restaurant was $80, while most of the other items were about $40. Why was it so expensive?
“These oysters are [imported] from Washington state,” said a waitress.
When I heard that, I felt blessed living here with the abundance of seafood at my fingertips. For those who live or work in the International District, it is a gift to have fresh seafood and produce readily available in the Asian groceries.
To prepare for my New Year dinner, we buy fresh live oysters from Uwajimaya. There are quite a few kinds in the seafood department. Some folks like to eat them raw, but we prefer to treat the “suckers” with fanfare, Chinese-style.
We pick the Pacific oysters live from the tank. If you rather not do that, Uwajimaya staff is ready to serve.
Pacific oysters are about $10 for a dozen. Each one is about three to four-and-a-half inches long. Our experience has shown that the Pacific ones are easy to open when cooked.
Not only are oysters lucky, there are also considered to be an anti-aging food. Rich in calcium, iron, selenium, and Vitamins A and B12, it is also low in calories. A few sources even said it could increase levels of sex hormones.
If you don’t want the trouble of cooking the oysters, several Chinese restaurants offer steamed live oysters. Or you can request the cooks prepare the oysters deep-fried, pan-fried, boiled, hot-pot style, with black bean sauce, with spicy sauce, baked with milk sauce, roasted, or steamed with gourmet soup, however you like. Just call in advance to order.
Bon appetite! (end)