CHINATOWN — In China, asking “Did you eat?” isn’t so much an invitation to have a meal as it is a sincere well-being check.
“That’s the equivalent of saying ‘How are you?’ in Chinese,” said Soo Lon Moy, president of the Chinatown Museum Foundation and an organizer of the “Did You Eat?” cookbook project, which aims to collect and publish recipes from Chinatown families.
The project, which has been underway for about a year, is gaining momentum with the debut of the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago’s new exhibit, which examines the eight traditional Chinese festivals, where food plays an integral part of the cultural celebrations.
Specific types of food are associated with each festival. During the Winter Solstice festival, for example, families gather to make rice dough balls dropped in a sweet or savory soup. Zongzi, a rice dish filling with different ingredients (salted duck eggs, peanuts, mushrooms) and wrapped within bamboo or reed leaves, is featured during the summer’s Dragon Boat festival.
Moy said she’s hoping to collect different versions of traditional recipes, whether they vary by region in China, or simply differ from family to family.
The contributions also can be a family’s unique spin on an American favorite, like Lon Moy’s father's “Famous Cantonese Roast Chicken,” cooked during holidays as an alternative to a Thanksgiving turkey.
“What we’re looking for are traditional home-cooked recipes and hopefully they have stories behind them. People might remember how they did a recipe with their mother or grandmother or during a festival. These are the stories we’d like to hear … because there’s a lot of bonding going on,” she said.
Interested in contributing a recipe? Contact the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago, 238 W. 23rd St., by emailing email@example.com or calling 312-949-1000.
Fook John Moy's Famous Cantonese Roast Chicken
1 Chinese style fresh chicken about 5 pounds (Chinese grocery stores)
2-3 poultry/turkey metal skewers
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons dark soy
2 tablespoons cooking wine/sherry
1 teaspoon salt
Sauce for stuffing:
1 teaspoon mei see minced
½ dried tangerine skin-soaked & minced
2 garlic cloves minced
2 parts of star anise
1 teaspoon vinegar
3 slices of ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Sauce preparation: Boil the above in 3 cups water in a small pot, reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes until ¾ cup of liquid remains. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar to the sauce.
Chicken preparation: Pour cold water, soy sauce and vinegar into a wok or big pot until almost ¾ full. Cover and bring to a boil. Wash and dry fresh chicken. Grab neck and feet and dip the chicken into the hot water, slowly rotating to cover all skin surfaces. Rub the cavity and outside of the chicken with a mixture of dark soy sauce, cooking wine and 1 teaspoon of salt.
Tie the neck tightly right above the body with a string. Pour stuffing sauce (above) into chicken cavity. Sew up cavity with metal skewers and secure with a string wrapped around the skewers to prevent leakage. Rub chicken lightly again with soy sauce.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place chicken in middle rack breast side up and place a baking pan with an inch of water in the lower rack. Roast chicken for about 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees. Total roasting time will be about 45 to 50 minutes — depending on the size of the chicken. Test with thermometer for doneness. Take chicken out of the oven and let stand for 15 minutes. Remove skewers and strings, drain sauce into a bowl and and degrease. Chop the chicken into serving size pieces.
Pour strained sauce over chicken before serving.