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This Friday marks the beginning of the year 4712 in the Chinese Calendar, the year of the horse. James Beard Award-winning chef Ming Tsai joins Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson in the studio to discuss some of the customs of Chinese New Year, as well as the Mandarin, Hunan, Szechwan and Cantonese cuisines.
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On food traditions for Chinese New Year
"With Chinese New Year, everything is significant... The shape of the potstickers resembles an ingot of gold. So for Chinese New Year, you want to bring fortune and wealth into the new year, so you eat potstickers. This is a guaranteed success of bring wealth and good and prosperity into your new year... You want wholeness, so eat whole duck, whole chicken, whole fish, a whole lobster. Green is important — green signifies money, which is a Western thing as well. Chinese New Year is one of these great holidays, like Thanksgiving, that is just based on the food."
On the “Americanization” of Chinese cuisine
"It goes back to how the Chinese were emigrated here. We were literally brought here to build railroads, then when that was done, all these men – mostly all men – did not speak English. One of the only ways to make money was to make food. But unfortunately, it was kind of dumbed down to the American palate. And I think that happens in a lot of cuisines in this country. So that came all the way to the '80s, and then we realized, and then we brought real chefs... to cook their cuisines."
On the development of the American palate for Chinese food
"You can travel around so much more easily, so people are going to China, they’re going to Thailand, they’re going to Japan. So they’re tasting the real deal and they’re demanding to have those real flavors. And you can buy any product anywhere in the world now. Twenty, thirty years ago, there was one ginger in the grocery store. Now, there’s like four different types of ginger... The palate of America is 50 times better than 20 years ago."
This segment aired on January 28, 2014.