Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Celebrating first day of Chinese New Year with "Jai" 新年快樂

It is customary that the first meal of the Chinese New Year be completely vegetarian. Although Jai is traditionally vegetarian, most Southern Chinese family recipe contains dried oysters as, the Cantonese word for oyster is 'ho-see', which has the connotation of a good thing.  Below is a diagram that shows all the ingredients that is in a traditional Jai and what each ingredients symbolizes.

Food plays an important role in the Chinese culture and therefore almost all foods eaten during Chinese New Year holds a special meaning.

Food Symbolism during Chinese New Year Celebrations

Chinese like playing with words and symbols. Often homonyms (words that share the same pronunciation but have different meanings) are used. Names of dishes and/or their ingredients which will be served sound similar to words and phrases referring to wishes expressed during the Chinese New Year, while other foods hold a symbolic meaning. ~ Nations Online

Jai is definitely one of my favorite Chinese New Year dishes. The intense rich aroma of Jai is what I waked up to in the morning of every first day of Chinese New Year growing up. The smell of the dried mushrooms and the fermented bean curd is very distinctive.  The recipe below is very close to my mother's version which is 'Southern Chinese'.  Writing this post is certainly bringing a sense of nostalgia to me since I am not there in my home country to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family; so this recipe is dedicated to my parents, brothers and their families, cousins and my whole extended family.  I trust this recipe can be there for them whenever they want to cook this special dish for many years to come.  I know we all have a mutual love for Jai.  Here is to all of you "Happy Chinese New Year" !


Re-hydrating all the dry ingredients
1 ounce Chinese/Shitake Mushrooms )
1 ounce Cloud Ears                           ) Soak in warm water in separate bowls to re-hydrate
1 ounce Dried Lily Buds,knotted        )
4 ounces dried oyster                       )       
   (optional, I used one 3.7 oz. can smoked canned oysters instead)

4 ounces bean curd sheets, deep fried
4 ounces firm tofu, drained and deep fried (or fried tofu puffs)
1 can (about 16 ounces) Gingko nuts  (4 oz. for fresh gingko nuts)
4 ounces fried gluten balls, blanched in hot water to remove excess oil
1 whole Napa Cabbage, about 1 poung (cut in 3" pieces lengthwise)

3 Tbs. oil
1 Tbs. minced garlic
3 Tbs. fermented bean curd (mashed)
1-2 cups water

2 Tbs. Mushroom Soy Sauce (or oyster sauce if preferred)
1 Tbs. Soy Sauce
pepper and salt, according to taste

1.  In a wok or heavy pan, add in garlic and fry it turns a light gold.  Add in mashed bean curd and fry until fragrant.
2.  Add in mushrooms, oysters and napa cabbage until the cabbage gets a little more tender Add the rest of the ingredients and bring mixture to a boil.  Turn heat to low to braise Jai for about 20 - 30 minutes.  Add water if pan gets dry.
3.    Add in seasonings according to taste, the finished dish should have a slight coating of sauce.
4.    Serve hot with rice.
Dried Chinese/Shitake Mushrooms

Cloud Ears

Dried Lily Buds 

Deep-fried bean curd sheets


  1. Gung Hay Fat Choy Peng!!! May you have a wonderful, healthful and prosperous New Year!!

  2. THANK YOU!!! I shared all of this with the elderly in a care home in Hawaii. I enlarged the photos, shared the info to give them more of an understanding an appreciation for the symbolism and the foods of chinese new year. We are going to have a lion dance and some fireworks this weekend, so wanted to prep them. THANK YOUUUU!!! HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR! THEY WILL BE BLESSED BECAUSE OF YOUR BLOG!

  3. You made my day to know that this posting will bless the people at the home. Happy Chinese New Year to you and please send my New Year Wishes & Blessings to all your lovely friends at the home.

  4. Thanks for the receipe & pictures!.
    So inspired to try making this myself :)
    i saw that you used gluten balls
    in the receipe. what are they ?

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Gluten Balls in Chinese is 麵筋, should be available in your wet markets or supermarkets. Here is a link So glad you are trying it out, Happy Cooking!