Tag: Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year in Sydney, 1910

On 5 February 1910, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published this series of photographs of Sydney’s Chinese community to mark the upcoming Chinese New Year.

One hundred and six years later I’d like to say, ‘kung-hi far-tsoy’ everyone!


'Kung-hi far-tsoy sun-neen', Daily Telegraph, 5 February 1910, p. 15

‘KUNG-HI FAR-TSOY SUN-NEEN.’

This picture depicts a well-known Chinese merchant in Sydney and his Chinese family, awaiting guests in the reception hall of his residence. The lady, it will be noticed, has the small feet, ‘golden lillies’ as they are known in China. A few years ago no mandarin would dream of marrying a lady who possessed feet more than three or four inches long.

Thursday next will be the first day of the Chinese new year, and that is the occasion for ceremonial visits among Chinese. On the entrance of the visitor there is a general exchange of the season’s greeting: ‘Kung-hi Far-Tsoy Sun-neen.’


 

MAKING NEW YEAR PURCHASES.

The Chinese shops in Sydney are mostly of the general store type. This represents the interior of one of the principal shops in Campbell-street. On the shelves over the proprietor’s head are silks, satins, and other dress goods. Further along are Chinese shoes–with paper soles. On the extreme right are bags containing Chinese rice, while in the inner chamber are all kinds of Chinese groceries, fire-crackers, and even–sausages. The proprietor also sells Chinese josses and fire-crackers with which to frighten away evil spirits–which are said to be very active at this period.


'The ancestral altar in a Chinese house', Daily Telegraph, 5 February 1910, p. 15

THE ANCESTRAL ALTAR IN A CHINESE HOUSE.

It will be noticed that over the altar is a picture of Confucius. On the altar itself are offerings to the gods, in the form of fruit, rice, eggs, etc. On New Year’s Day various genuflexions and kow-tows have to be performed before this altar.


'Poultry for the new year', Daily Telegraph, 5 February 1910, p. 15

POULTRY FOR THE NEW YEAR.

There was great business being done in the ‘cook-shops,’ which are stalls open to the street, on which larded ducks, roast chicken, stewed fowls stuffed with chestnuts are offered for sale. That even a Chinese can appreciate a free advertisement is shown by the expression on the cook’s face.

Chinese New Year in Sydney – 150 years of history

Chinese New Year has been celebrated in Australia for over 150 years—since the first festivities were held in the late 1850s. The first newspaper reference I can find about Chinese New Year being celebrated in Sydney is from 1862, when the Sydney Morning Herald noted that:

The coming in of the Chinese new year was duly celebrated on Wednesday week by the Chinese shopkeepers of Sydney with ceremonies peculiar to themselves, winding up with an ample supper (SMH, 8 February 1862).

The details were republished in the Queanbeyan Age:

The Chinese New Year.—On Wednesday last, says the Sydney Herald, all the Chinese shopkeepers in Sydney closed their establishments, and refused to serve customers. Upon inquiry, it was discovered that, according to the Chinese reckoning, the old year closed with Wednesday, and that the event was being celebrated in the usual Chinese fashion. In the evening a pig was killed and its head having been dressed, it was adorned with flowers and placed in a conspicuous place in one of the Chinese houses, where each Chinaman in turn bowed down before it, apparently performing some act of religious homage. The floor of each of the apartments in the house was extensively lighted with candles in bottles, and after the religious ceremonial was over, the company adjourned to partake of a sumptuous supper, consisting of an abundance of poultry. The body of the pig was also served up and eaten. Musical performances in the Chinese style followed, and were kept up till daylight in the new year (Queanbeyan Age and General Advertiser, 13 February 1862).

Here are a few other articles about Sydney’s Chinese New Year celebrations over the following decades:

Kung hei faat choi! Xin nian kuai le!

‘Faat tay’ – new year prosperity cakes

To celebrate Chinese New Year, here’s a recipe for new year cakes known in Taishanese as ‘faat tay’ . ‘Faat’ is the same word as in the traditional new year greeting ‘gung hei faat choi’. ‘Tay’ is the Taishanese word for cake. If you make these and then tell your average Australian what they are called, expect unfriendly jokes about how they are, in fact, ‘farty’ cakes. Or maybe that was just my cultured colleagues at the archives. And my five-year-old.

The recipe is simple (and vegan – no eggs, butter or milk) and they’re quick to make. As well as the name, expect comments about the topping – instead of icing, faat tay have black sesame seeds and faat choi (black moss or hair moss) on top.

Made the proper way – the way it’s done in the village – the cakes are steamed in a wok over a wood-fired stove (see the picture below). Since I don’t have an old-style Chinese stove at home, or an enormous wok, or the lovely little pottery dishes that the cakes are steamed in, I’ve had to improvise. I’ve also had to improvise with the recipe too. I’ve seen recipes for similar new year cakes in recipe books, but they included ingredients like yeast and eggs, which this recipe doesn’t.

You should be able to get the faat choi and black sesame seeds (haak jee ma) at your local Chinese grocer. You only need a tiny bit of faat choy for each cake, but you might just have to buy an enormous bag of it.

Faat tey cooking the traditional way in Taishan, Chinese New Year 2006

Ingredients

225 g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
150 g Chinese brown slab sugar (peen tong), broken into pieces
6 tbsp oil
225 ml water, plus water to use when steaming cakes
black moss (faat choi)
black sesame seeds (haak jee ma)

Special equipment

wok
bamboo steamer
24 small patty pans (cupcake molds) or Chinese teacups

Method

1. Dissolve the peen tong in the water. Either heat them together on the stove or boil the water and leave the peen tong in it until dissolved. Set aside to cool.

It’s best if you can break the peen tong up first – try whacking it with the handle of a heavy knife or chopper. The sugar can take a while to dissolve, so it’s best to do this step well before you plan to actually make the cakes.

2. Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl.

3. Stir sugar water and oil into flour mixture.

4. Mix well, and beat to get out the lumps if necessary.

5. Bring some water to boil in a large wok.

6. While the water is coming to the boil, put batter into patty pans. Depending on the type of patty pans/teacups you use, you might want to grease them with some oil to stop the cakes sticking. Put patty pans into bamboo steamer in the wok and cover.

7. Steam over a high heat, with water at a rapid boil.

8. When the cakes are about half done but still sticky on top (after about 2–3 minutes), sprinkle a small amount of faat choi and black sesame seeds on top.

9. The cakes are cooked when a skewer comes out clean, and the tops have ‘popped’ (they should crack). It will take between 5 to 10 minutes. The cakes will not be brown because they are steamed.

10. Remove the steamer from the wok and let cakes cool.

Other similar recipes

Similar recipes for steamed cakes can be found here:

  • Steamed rice flour cupcakes, in S.C. Moey, Chinese Feasts and Festivals: A Cookbook, p. 73
  • Sponge cupcakes, in Cecilia Au Yang, Dimsum (ISBN 7-80653-083-5), p. 98
  • Steamed sponge cake, in Grace Young, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing, p. 46