“Gung hay fat choy” – Celebrating Chinese New Year


My grandmother was Chinese. Her family lived in the Canton region of China and she spent a majority of her life in Portland, Oregon. As a mom of four, she taught my dad, the youngest of four siblings, how to make the best Cantonese style Chinese food. When I was a kid living in Oregon I remember Saturday mornings with extended family going to Dim Sum, a Chinese style brunch, served on rolling carts.

As I have gotten older, I have enjoyed learning how to make my Grandmother’s recipes from my dad. He has taught me how to navigate Asian markets, prepare ingredients, the importance of cooking all day, and how to elevate flavors. If my dad doesn’t know how to make something, he suggests youtubing it!

Since having my son, it is has been my mission to celebrate the cultures that comprise his heritage. Every year, we celebrate Chinese New Year by making my grandmother’s dishes, supporting local Chinese restaurants, and gifting family and friends red packets. I am so excited to share this tradition with you and hope you will teach your child too the meaning of Chinese New Year.

Preparing for Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in the Chinese tradition. The holiday occurs on the second new moon after the winter solstice, typically in late January or early February. To prepare for the holiday, we first clean the house by sweeping away all the dirt and dust along with all the bad luck that has collected throughout the year. Then we go to the market to buy flowers, fruits (to place on family alters), items for dinner, and red packets known as lai see. Additionally, we schedule haircuts for the entire family, so we are starting the New Year fresh.

In 2021, Chinese New Year is Friday, February 12!

Here are some children’s books I would recommend reading to teach your child about the history and tradition of Chinese New Year. Click THIS LINK to visit Bookshop.com a website that connects you to local bookstores.

As part of the tradition, families that celebrate Chinese New Year will give and receive red packets, known as lai see. During the new year, adults such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, family friends, or parents will give children a red packet containing money or money candy. In my family, red packets are also given during special occasions to represent a gift that is generous and cannot be refused. Since moving to Rhode Island I have had difficulty buying red packets in February, so I have learned that I have to buy them online if I want them for Chinese New Year.

Since my son is now old enough to embrace all the decorations and food that come with a holiday, we are going all out this year. I ordered a pack of decorations that also contain red packets and I am preparing a feast to share with family.

Chinese New Year Menu

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  1. Tofu Soup
  2. Char Siu Pork
  3. Black Bean Broccoli Chicken
  4. Sticky Rice
  5. Trader Joe’s Dumplings

There are three Chinese markets I would recommend in Rhode Island for finding specific Chinese ingredients. The largest is, Good Fortune. Located in Providence off the Elmwood Ave. exit, Good Fortune has EVERYTHING you could need. You can buy meat, fish, dry goods, fruits and vegetables. If you don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese it is overwhelming when you first go in, so I would recommend first writing down the specific ingredients you need, pictures of the packaging, and willingness to search.  The Chinese American Mini Market in Cranston on Park is a great place to buy your essentials. It is small, so I would recommend going on a solo journey versus bringing your handsy toddler. For those that live in the Southern part of Rhode Island, Chinese Grocery in Westerly is a medium-sized market where you can find almost everything you will need for most of your recipes.

Now for the recipes…I love tofu soup. My dad makes this every time he hosts a Chinese dinner. The recipe is super easy.

Tofu Soup Recipe

4 containers of firm tofu (don’t get the silky tofu)

10 small scallops

1/2 cup salted turnip sliced into 2 inch strips

12 dried mushrooms

Enough chicken broth to cover all the ingredients, about 3, 32 ounce containers


  1. Cut the tofu into 2 inch cubes, place into large soup pot
  2. Place 10 small scallops into the large soup pot
  3. Cut 1/2 cup of salted turnip, see the picture for the one I purchased at Good Fortune, and cut into 2 inch strips. Place into the large soup pot
  4. Rehydrate 12 dried mushrooms (see picture for the one I purchased at Good Fortune) in a bowl of water for about an hour and then cut into strips. Place the mushroom strips into the big soup bowl
  5. Cover the ingredients with chicken broth
  6. On medium high heat, bring the soup to a boil. Once to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover. The longer you simmer your soup, the more flavorful it will be. I typically start my soup around 11 and then let it cook on the stove till dinner time. Be sure to stir your soup every thirty minutes.

Char Siu Pork

I have never cooked char siu pork until this year. I used this recipe for the first time and absolutely love it! I would highly recommend. I didn’t have Chinese wine, so I used chicken stock and it still turned out great. If you don’t want to cook char siu pork, you can purchase from Good Fortune at the food stand inside.

Black Bean Broccoli Chicken

This recipe isn’t really authentic, but I love it not only for Chinese New Year but also a quick and easy weekday meal. When making any type of stir fry, I would recommend using a wok for even heating. I love this wok because it also has a steamer attachment that can be used to cook the dumplings.


  1. 1tbs oil
  2. 2 chicken breasts sliced into 2 inch cubes
  3. Broccoli Florets, I typically use 2 heads of broccoli
  4. 8 ounces of cut mushrooms
  5. 1 medium size onion, sliced into strips
  6. 3 spoonful of Black bean sauce (see my pictures) this can typically be purchased at a local grocery store
  7. 1 Tbs Cornstarch
  8. 1 cup chicken broth


  1. Cut all your ingredients, placing the mushrooms and onions, broccoli and meat into separate bowls
  2. Heat up one tbs of oil. Once the oil is heated, cook the chicken with one spoonful of black bean sauce
  3. Once the chicken is fully cooked, pour the mushrooms and onions and sauté till they become wet.
  4. Pour the broccoli and a spoonful of black bean sauce into the pot. Stir around until all the broccoli florets are covered in sauce.
  5. In a liquid measuring cup, mix the chicken broth and cornstarch until the cornstarch is dissolved. I like to use my black bean sauce spoon to add a little black bean sauce too. Once mixed, pour into the cooking pot and bowl. This liquid will create a nice sauce and also allow the broccoli to steam cook.
  6. Enjoy this dish on top of a bead of sweet rice otherwise known as sticky rice.

Sticky Rice

I love using my instant pot to make rice. Before the instant pot I had a rice cooker, however since both devices take up a substantial amount of space, I opted to keep the instant pot since it is more versatile. If you don’t have an instant pot, I can’t rave about them enough!


  1. 1 cup of frozen peas
  2. 4 links of Chinese Style Sausage
  3. 2 cups of Sweet Rice
  4. 2 1/2 cups of water


  1. Mix all ingredients into the instant pot
  2. Click the rice button, let the instant pot do all the work
  3. Let the valve release naturally for 20 minutes

Trader Joe’s Dumplings

I have attempted to make my own dumplings, but I have found they are A LOT of work for a family of three. So, I have discovered Trader Joe’s collection of frozen dumplings, which are actually pretty good! There are two ways to cook a frozen dumpling: steamed or pan fried. When steaming the dumplings, I have found using a bamboo steamer does a great job cooking the dumpling evenly. I put about 4 cups of water into my wok, get it to boiling, and then place the bamboo steamer on top. When preparing your steamer, make sure you are using a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of each layer, this will ensure your dumplings don’t stick to the grate and the flavors don’t remain on the steamer.

Chinese Restaurants around Rhode Island

If you have no desire to cook for Chinese New Year or need to grab a couple goodies to elevate your table here are my suggestions.

  1. Grab an order of dumplings (pork, chicken, or veggie) from Jayd Bun in South Kingstown. They come six in a serving, and the homemade goodness won’t disappoint! The wanton soup, and any noodle dish are also delicious. Be aware, any item you order typically takes at least 40 minutes.
  2. Go to King’s Garden in Cranston for lotus leaf sticky rice. Traditionally served at dim sum, King’s Garden has a section on their menu specifically for items you would typically find during the Chinese brunch. I would order a sampling: steamed roast pork bun, chives dumpling, and steamed fresh shrimp dumplings.
  3. Apsara on Public Street in Providence has a menu filled with a variety of Asian delicacies. I absolutely love the Crispy Wings and the Stir Fried Udon Noodles. Be sure you go to the one on Public Street and not Hope Street. Both offer different options, but the one on Public is my favorite.

This year, Chinese New Year is on Friday, February 12th and it is the year of the Ox. On Friday, my family will say to each other, “Gung hay fat choy” which is Cantonese for Happy New Year. I hope that you too will celebrate with us. I cannot wait to hear about your New Year and see all your pictures on social media.

Gung hay fat choy!

red packet Chinese new year

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  1. Lovely article a Beth. I love that you’re writing, celebrating your heritage, and creating a great life for your son. Bravo.

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