One of my beloved holidays is just around the corner. It’s the holiday that most children with East and Central Asian ancestry look forward to every year. Lunar New Year! And in case you’re wondering, it’s on February 19th this year.
I have the best memories of Lunar New Year. As a child, I would pick out a new outfit for the occasion, help my hard-working mama clean every nook and cranny in our house, and gather at my grandparents’ house with my extended family the night before the big day for a gourmet dinner of endless Chinese dishes. A clean house and food. Both are literally two of my favorite things.
Cleaning the entire house is a Chinese New Year tradition, not just one of my mama’s OCD habits. A thoroughly cleansed house is thought to get rid of any lingering bad luck and bring in good luck. If you come across any misfortunes one year, you can probably blame it on the shelf you forgot to dust. We’re all about the good luck and the bad luck!
The most exciting custom of Lunar New Year, especially for the kids, is receiving red envelopes from all your relatives. It’s like Halloween, but instead of saying trick-or-treat, you simply wish all a happy new year. Instead of candy, you are handed red envelopes filled with money. When I was young and very naive, I thought I could retire and move to Disneyland with my little haul of red envelopes (this was before I knew what mortgages and bills were).
Here’s the catch – once you get married, you stop receiving these coveted red envelopes and have to pay up, i.e. hand out red envelopes to the youngins. What an incentive to be unwedded.
Thit kho tau, or braised pork and eggs in a sweet and sticky sauce, is a Vietnamese dish my mom made all the time for us as kids. Needless to say, I love it and request it whenever I come home for a visit. Caramelized sugar and light coconut milk or juice are used to create the rich and delicious sauce. Pork belly or pork shoulder slices are initially coated in soy sauce, fish sauce, star anise, garlic, and shallots, then braised with hard-boiled eggs.
Recently I learned that thit kho tau is a traditional Lunar New Year dish in Vietnam. I’m ringing in this Lunar New Year with my own version of this classic Vietnamese dish.
- 8 eggs
- 2 lbs pork belly or pork shoulder, sliced into 1 inch pieces
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 shallots, diced
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 whole star anise
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups light coconut milk or coconut juice
- green onions, thinly sliced for ganishing
- Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil. As soon as it reaches a rolling boil, take it off the heat, cover with the lid, and let it sit for 8 minutes. Peel, then set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together the pork, garlic, shallots, fish sauce, soy sauce, star anises, and black pepper. Set aside.
- In a dutch oven or medium-sized pot, heat only the sugar over medium-low heat to caramelize it, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sugar will melt, turn into a syrup, then become darker in color. The sugar burns very easily so keep a close eye! Once it turns golden brown, add the pork, increase the heat to medium-high, and stir to coat and brown the meat. After the meat is brown all over, simmer for 5 minutes to let the sauce cook down.
- Pour in the coconut milk or juice, bring to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this time, ladle and discard any fat or foam that rises to the surface.
- Add the peeled and boiled eggs and simmer for 30 minutes on low heat, gently stirring occasionally. Plate, top with sliced green onions (optional), and serve over rice.