For me, having spent past Lunar New Years with relatives in Shanghai, the holiday has been one of indulgence. It's a time for fat tangerines bursting with juice, chocolate coin showers, and generous relatives flapping red hongbaos in their hands. Not to mention the family feasts, which lead to a tremendous nationwide spike in calorie intake that can only (possibly) be rivaled by Thanksgiving in North America. This year, however, instead of an extravagant celebration marked by the sputter of firecrackers and colorful blurs of dragon dancing, the NYUAD Chinese Cultural Club went back to the basics and hosted a low-key celebration that focused on food.
Commandeering a table in the dining hall, the Club set up a hot pot, a mat, and several bowls of dumpling filling with the goal of demonstrating the practice of dumpling-making, a tradition found in Chinese, Cantonese, and Taiwanese cultures. This — as well as several traditional dishes catered by a local Chinese restaurant — attracted several curious onlookers. It was a simple process — easy enough for me, a novice, to catch on quickly. It necessitated only dough for the skin, some basic ingredients, and boiling water. Also, soy sauce…lots and lots of soy sauce.
My fellow Club members quickly demonstrated the process: the dough, handmade by Yuqi Sun (NYUAD '15) and Shien Yang Lee (NYUAD '16), was smacked onto the mat and rolled into flat, miniature pancakes. Then, students picked up clumps of filling using either chopsticks or a spoon (depending on their confidence in their motor skills). The filling was then placed into the center of the dough, and the dough was sealed together to form a pouch. The only tricky part from there was forming pleats in the dough — a common practice that prevents the dumpling from coming undone while cooking. After a couple minutes of practice, I'd gotten good enough to form a couple charmingly malformed dumplings, but nowhere near the skill level of some of the other members of the club, whose dumplings were all uniform in size with neat little pleats.
Working together to prepare the dumpling ingredients evoked fond memories of the lively preparation work leading up to Chinese New Year feasts with my family.
But at the end of the day, the appearance of the dumpling did not matter. The filling, made by Lee and Benny Lu (NYUAD '16), was delicious enough to make even the most malformed dumplings popular with the dining hall crowd. Many nonmembers of the club, curious about both the food and the holiday, came to sample the dumplings and even attempt to make some of their own.
"The fact that I got to cook some delicious dumplings while learning about a different culture at the same time was amazing," said freshman Angela Ortega Pastor. Students made dumplings and, while waiting for their creations to boil, asked the Club members questions about the Lunar New Year and the traditions behind it. The Chinese Cultural Club explained the context of the celebration, not just in China, but in countries such as Hong Kong and Taiwan as well.
Dumpling making is usually done circle-style, with people chatting as they work. This held true for our Abu Dhabi celebration, and for me, spending time and getting to know my fellow members of the club was the most valuable part of the experience. Lee echoed a similar sentiment. "Working together to prepare the dumpling ingredients evoked fond memories of the lively preparation work leading up to Chinese New Year feasts with my family."