Getting back to Beijing from America a month ago to date, one would imagine I'd be completely done with holidays. My Christmas-obsessed boyfriend has finally joined the dark side and proclaimed a ban on partaking in the stressful and materialistic celebration.
Around this time of year, I typically like to find myself with a drink in hand on some south east Asian island. But to my own surprise, I'm already a little homesick. Lucky for us, we were adopted for the night by snagging an invite to our old friend Nara's house, a bad ass Inner Mongolian girl we met in Hohhot almost five years ago.
This year we finally were able to meet her little trouble-maker, William, and the rest of her in laws. What's nuts to me about these guys, is that A.) They're Mongolian, B.) They're 老北京人(old school Beijingers), and C. Nara was pretty much abandoned by a foreigner while she was preggo with his baby, William.
This is essentially a concoction for her in laws to hate foreigners because A.) Mongolians are big on blood lines, so they like to make sure friends and family are usually of the same ethnicity as them. B.) Downtown Beijing basically defines gentrification due to heavy western influence and presence. It ain't what it used to be. But for people like me, that's a good thing. For them, it's a cultural loss. And for C.), well, us foreigners can somewhat be lumped all together when it comes to living in China. It has ups an downs.
In this particular case, the family had every reason to say "HELL NAH" to her asking if we could join them for such a coveted holiday. Instead, they welcomed us in as if we were their own, made sure we were mushy, cozy, and full of their expectedly amazing food. Ughhhhhh god I love them and everythinggggg.
Peep Genghis in the background.
We arrived while the feast was being prepared, CCTV was airing its annual propaganda-filled Spring Fest celebration, and William was just waking up from a nap, sketched out by the 外国人 (foreigners) on his couch. We took a seat next to their colorfully decorated coffee table - a staple when bringing in the New Year. Bountiful centerpieces filled with fruit, snacks, and flowers are essential for good luck and good health.
While the boyfriend cracked into a bottle of whiskey, I did my usual meandering into the kitchen to see what was cookin', pretending I was available to help, but in all actually, just available to eat. As I suspected, they had it goin' down:
Lotus root is. my. shit. I cook with it regularly, but haven't ever made these - ôu piàn, which translates directly to lotus root slice. These ones are smeared with ground pork and then deep fried. Bombbbbb. Srsly tho, keep your eyes wiiiiiide open for a recipe. Something tells me they're easy to put together.
Chicken wings, peppers doused in vinegar and garlic, 饺子(dumplings), bitter melon. They had it all:
It goes without saying that the food was solid. Nara brought back some Inner Mongolian beef jerky, which you can see from the picture, it's not like the jerky you get in the US. The clear glass bowl is filled with what's basically cured prime cuts of steak. A carnivores wildest fantasy.
You can see there is an abundance of food, but in my old age, I'm turning into one of my soup-loving Jew relatives, that may not actually agree with this rich pork broth. Ribs, chestnuts, ginger, and super secret spices were boiled together for hours. Hopefully Grandma doesn't take this recipe to the grave with her, because your girl is scheming to share it with the world.
We sat around picking at food and shootin' the shit, which commonly is done until about 11:30pm-12:00am. Nara decided she had a big idea, which ultimately turned into playing drunken dress up:
Yeah, that's my boyfriend in traditional Mongolian attire. Something both he and I successfully avoided putting on for many years in Hohhot. I got sucked in to wearing Nara's wedding dress, but looked like a super goon. William is wearing a wolf hat we brought him, leading him to use his Mongolian strength to tackle me. #kidz
And the last photo is the start of a series I'm working on, appropriately titled Brendan: Making Babies Cry. I'm positive Urban Outfitters will pick it up.
It's at this time the country becomes peppered with fireworks. You can look in literally any direction from the first night of Chinese New Year until about a week after, and you'll be sure to see the sky lit up, day or night.
When you're a n00b to China, you'd either feel like you're in a war zone or be in awe. But as a vet, these fireworks mean just one thing to me -- midnight jiaozi:
My boxing trainer told me just one thing before he left for this week-long holiday, "Eat right and continue to exercise." So just like every other year, I stuffed my face and skipped the gym the following day.
While this Spring Festival was essentially identical to the one's I've celebrated before it, it genuinely never gets old paying homage to a country and the people in it that have welcomed me year after year. Plus, Nara sent us home with some jerky and stuffed lotus root, ultimately signifying that the Year of the Monkey really is going to be damn good.
So, how'd you bring in the Year of the Monkey? Did you stuff your face too? Did you get the lucky coin in your midnight jiaozi? Did you make out in 红包 (red envelope with money inside)? Lemme know in comments below!