In the distant past, Time was an illusion and chaos reigned among the animals of the earth. Every creature from the cunning rat to the arrogant tiger proclaimed that he alone was the most virtuous and unique. The Jade Emperor, Lord of Heaven, needed to restore order. He would hold a great race, and the first twelve to cross the finish would be declared the First of the Earthly Creatures. After the dust raised by ten thousand paws, claws and hooves settled, the winners were the rat, the ox, the tiger, the hare, the dragon, the serpent, the horse, the sheep, the monkey, the cock, the dog and the pig. Each was rewarded with its own year, and these twelve years of the Chinese zodiac cycle are each characterized by the distinctive traits of that year's animal. From these twelve symbols, a person's fortune, character, strengths and weaknesses, as well as the course of his personal and social life may be told.
The stalwart ox was seemingly destined to be the winner of the celestial race, but his perseverance would lose to the craftiness of the rat. (The wily little creature was hiding in the ox's ear and leapt out to cross the finish line ahead of him.) Those born under the sign of the ox are known for their dexterity and driving perfectionism. They are generous and devoted. But as pensive and loving as they may be, they are not likely to forgive and forget when they have been wronged.
Susanna Foo, acclaimed author and owner of the award-winning Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine, in Philadelphia, recalls her childhood New Year's memories of Northern China and Taiwan:
"Whatever their celestial signs, all of the celebrants of Chinese New Year rejoice in this happiest day and most important festival on the Lunar calendar. The New Year celebration usually lasts seven days and the homes and streets are radiant with exploding fireworks and dazzling strings of lights. The mighty dragon leads its ever popular parade and visits each business to kill evil and bring renewed prosperity."
The holiday is also a time of renewal and everyone wears new clothes—children especially wear the color red. Families everywhere gather for a reunion on New Year's Eve and enjoy a multi-course dinner while waiting until midnight to pay their respects to ancestors and their elders. Naturally, family activities center around food. Susanna recalls her own childhood when making glorious Pork Dumplings was a much anticipated ritual: "These dumplings were traditionally served on the first morning of the Chinese New Year. Formed in the crescent shape of ancient Chinese golden coins, dumplings are considered to be a good luck symbol. Hundreds of dumplings would be readied weeks ahead of time and left outside to freeze. They would be brought in and boiled as needed for the holidays."
She adds, "These dumplings are the most popular appetizer in my restaurant, and even though I've been eating them forever, I still enjoy them." From the array of revolutionary recipes that have established her reputation, one sees in Susanna a boundless appreciation of food. From Smoked Pheasant, Sausage, Ham and Sweet Rice Cakes—traditionally prepared in Hu-Nan province by her mother-in-law as a symbol of the new year—to the more elaborate main dishes such as Squirrel Yellow Pike and Eight Treasure Duck, everything she touches is a banquet for the senses. Susanna Foo has pioneered an elegant yet simple cuisine so heavenly that author Amy Tan finished her first meal at Susanna's with "the happy fullness of having eaten one of the most exquisite and exciting dinners of my life."
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This page modified January 2007
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