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Misappropriation and Culinary Creativity for a Lunar New Year

A thoughtfulrecipe.blog story

By Caroline JanePublished 24 days ago β€’ 7 min read
Top Story - February 2024
Manchester - outside Victoria Train Station.

Tomorrow, 10th February 2024, marks the start of the new Lunar Year, and I wanted to create a recipe to mark the occasion. However, I have a fear that in my rush to "try new things" what I am actually doing is rather clumsily... God forbid, carelessly misappropriating a culture.

I was raised in a pre-millennium world where we went out "for an Indian" or "for a Chinese" when we chose a restaurant. We never "went out for an English or an American." No. In those instances, we went out for fish and chips or burgers or similar. I look back on the language, terminology, and underlying association, and I feel sad and very sorry about how ignorant I was.

I do not want to make these same grotesque mistakes, so you can imagine my horror when I found myself doing what I thought was exactly that.

Just over a week ago, I took a trip to Manchester. The city is my hometown, and I love visiting it. It rolls with memories for me. I can picture my Grandad walking to the Mirror Building in Ancoats to print the daily news, see my Great Grandad in his Police uniform walking through St Peter's Square, see my Great Aunt Eliza selling papers on the corner of St Annes. I remember meeting friends in Affleck's Palace after lectures and meeting my husband (to-be) for a chess game in Shambles Square. Manchester is a city that bridges and paves roads to my heritage and my past. It is more than anywhere in the world, my home.

It is also a metropolis full of many different cultures, and I love it even more for this!

Right now, it is ablaze with the colour red. Chinese Paper lanterns hang in cherry blossom clusters from every available tree, scattered across the city in readiness for the celebration of the new Lunar Year this weekend. The warmth that trickles through the air, the anticipation of the celebration, the joy of the coming year of the Dragon is palpable. You can see it in the colours, hear it when people talk, and smell it in the street food.

(The picture above is as you reach the city at Victoria Station)

As I expected, my trip there was inspiring, and I went home full of memories and a good peppering of ideas to embrace the coming celebrations.

The first recipe I made was a noodle soup. It tasted incredible. A rich, dark broth fragranced with the tang of ginger and the warmth of chilli. I flavoured it with mushroom ketchup for extra umami and layered it with the vegetables: spring onions (scallions), broad, fleshy mushrooms, deep green kale, and shredded bright orange carrot. Then I soft-boiled an egg and placed it on top, the golden creamy yolk adding a decadent mellowness to the tasty bowl.

Yes, I thought, yes, this is perfect.

Of course, I soon realised that what I had made was not a noodle soup but Ramen, and Ramen, as we all know, is Japanese in origin. My intent to celebrate the Lunar New Year had crumbled into the realms of potential misappropriation and, potentially, at the harsher end, racism. Was the Lunar New Year, not a Chinese event!!!???

I am not proud of my ignorance, I assure you.

To appease my guilt and stop myself from adding insult to injury, I went on a research spree of the Lunar New Year. This is what I discovered from my Google search:

1.Although it has traditionally been called "Chinese New Year" in the West, the "Lunar New Year" is in fact celebrated across a 5th of the world. Many people in and from China, Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Japan (yes, Japan) celebrate the coming of the new Lunar Year.

2.Traditionally, preparing for the New Year involves starting from a "clean slate" This means that preparations include cleaning your house, paying off debts, and buying new clothes in readiness.

3.There are different traditions involved in Lunar New Year celebrations. Vietnamese believe the first person to step into your house will set the tone for the coming year. This is called Xong Dat or "first footing." In China, it is common to wish people "Happy New Year" with a balled fist into a palm salute, women with their right hand open, men with their left. The salute should be shaken three times to wish good fortune and happiness.

4.The colour red is hugely important. It symbolises the sun, which gives life, and blood, which circulates life.

5.Red envelopes with money in them are given as gifts. These are for wealth, prosperity, and good luck. It is unlucky to put only four units of currency into the envelope, as the number 4 is a bad omen associated with death.

6.Foods served at Lunar New Year celebrations are those associated with luck: whole fish, or "yu" (which has the same pronunciation as the word for abundance), Soup made with sticky rice, which symbolises togetherness, or noodles, which denote a long life.

7.The Chinese New Year animal is linked to five elementary elements: earth, wood, fire, water, and metal. This coming year is not just the year of the Dragon but, specifically, the Wood-Dragon. Last year (2023) was the year of the Water Rabbit. In Thailand, it is called the year of the Naga, a mythical snake-like monster.

8. Many consider the number 8 a lucky number. In Mandarin, it is pronounced "ba," which sounds similar to the word for wealth and prosperity. Chinese people try to incorporate the number into celebrations like the Lunar New Year.

I also learned that Ramen originated from Yokohama, a place in Japan where Chinese people settled in the early 20th Century, bringing with them noodle soups. The name was adapted from the Chinese word "Lamian. "

Now, the question is, knowing all that I have discovered. Can I justify my bowl of Ramen as a food to bring comfort and to share in celebration of the coming Lunar New Year? It does seem to be appropriate on a lot of different levels.

The truth is. I am still not sure.

All I know is that this bowl of noodles, much like a Ramen, is delicious, tasty, and warming, and I can say it "nods" to the food shared by cultures who celebrate the Lunar New Year. Perhaps it is my personal "fusion" style. Is that an exception to misappropriation? It seems to be everywhere in the culinary world. I am absolutely sure that the addition of "mushroom ketchup" is a very British addition.

Food is culturally hugely significant, yet it seems perfectly fine to take "bits" from all over the world and fuse them together. Perhaps this is because food is culturally attributed as opposed to "stolen," which is what misappropriation truly is.

I shall leave this to you to decide.

For now, here is the recipe for a good, simple, nutritious, bowl of Lunar New Year Inspired Noodle Soup (with British influences).

Westernised Lunar Ramen Soup

500ml broth (chicken or Vegetable) flavoured with ginger puree, sliced red chilli, and garlic puree.

Tablespoon of mushroom ketchup.

Slices of meaty mushrooms, spring onions, shredded carrot, handful of kale, 2 discs of dried egg noodles (see picture)

One soft-boiled egg (egg into a cold pan of salted water and bring to a boil. Leave boiling for 3 mins. Drain and run under cold water so it can be peeled without burning your hands).

Method: Put the broth and spices in a pan and bring to a boil; simmer for 5 minutes. Pass through a sieve to remove any bits of ginger and return to the pan. Add noodles, ketchup, and sliced vegetables. Decant into a bowl. Serve with a soft egg sliced on top.

Note: Keep tasting throughout to get it just right. Please feel free to experiment with different vegetables, too.


CJ xx


About the Creator

Caroline Jane

Warm-blooded vertebrate, domesticated with a preference for the wild. Howls at the moon and forages on the dark side of it. Laughs like a hyena. Fuelled by good times and fairy dust. Writes obsessively with no holes barred.

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Comments (22)

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  • Mike Singleton - Mikeydred8 days ago

    Looks delicious, sorry I missed this, I miss so much of people's work

  • Tiffany Gordon 12 days ago

    It looks delish sweet Caroline! Thx 4 including the cultural facts! I learned alot!

  • Mackenzie Davis13 days ago

    Mmm, mushrooms. That looks fantastic! I've never felt like food could be misappropriated. For me, education is everything if you want to call stuff authentic, but I don't see how enjoying a dish that falls outside your own culture and then wanting to replicate it as best you can is in any way a bad thing. Isn't bad-tasting food, wherever it's from, the most insulting form that food can take? Food brings people together and I think every culture agrees. "Misappropriation" just seems like a psy-op, lol.

  • Anna 14 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!πŸ₯³

  • Shirley Belk19 days ago

    Thank you for teaching me about Manchester and the Lunar New Year!

  • Babs Iverson20 days ago

    Loved it!!! Congratulations on Top Story!!!β™₯️β™₯οΈπŸ’•

  • Naveed 20 days ago

    Superior effort! Keep the outstanding workβ€”congrats!

  • Hanane baroudi 22 days ago

    Wow I love this..

  • J22 days ago

    You took the time to do the research, and gave credit where it was due. That speaks volumes in itself. I hope this year brings more compassion like yours into the world, and opens to door to more safe spaces for dialogue like this.

  • Paul Stewart23 days ago

    Ah, Caroline. I love when you write about...well in general? Anyway...not to dismiss your fears...I do wonder where appropriation starts and ends and appreciation starts and ends. Someone said something similar below about that, Xine (just checked), and what Dana said is true too about food. The thing is...you took the time to check...and that's what makes you different. It shows you care. I got flashbacks of tainted nostalgia to the Indian/Chinese stuff you mentioned! Always love your writing for things like that. Congrats on a fine Top Story and your Ramen looks awesome! Like everyone else, I'm wondering and going to hunt for mushroom ketchup! :) Trifle pieces next please!

  • Oh wow, I had no idea of that Vietnamese tradition. I'm from Malaysia and the Chinese here celebrate Chinese New Year. Your ramen looks sooooo delicious! Also, at the risk of sounding dumb, what is mushroom ketchup? πŸ˜… Congratulations on your Top Story! πŸŽ‰πŸ’–πŸŽŠπŸŽ‰πŸ’–πŸŽŠ

  • D. J. Reddall23 days ago

    The dish looks as delicious as you implied that it tasted and your anxious struggle to do the right thing in a postmodern, cosmopolitan frame of reference evoked considerable sympathy!

  • Heather Hubler23 days ago

    I enjoyed this so much :) And of course had to look up mushroom ketchup. I really want to try it!

  • Ken_kudu23 days ago

    I love this

  • Jay Kantor23 days ago

    Cj - Arigato ~ Somehow you always seem to 'Noodle' me. Jk

  • Hannah Moore23 days ago

    It's so interesting, the symbolism of food. I mean, culturally, I just don't ever do that. Perhaps I do, and just don't know the history. Perhaps there is symbolism in a trifle in some way.

  • Xine Segalas23 days ago

    It looks like you made a beautiful meal that brought you comfort and that's important. I don't believe this is appropriation but rather an appreciation, particularly since you went the extra mile to learn about the background of the food. People should be able to enjoy foods from other cultures and areas of the world, and not be looked at like it's some sort of appropriation. Opening up your taste buds to flavors from around the world is something people should be open to, not fearful of how they will be viewed.

  • Dana Crandell23 days ago

    Mmmmmm, 'shrooms! I, for one, will definely be trying this, and it seems mushroom ketchup is as close as Amazon. Missapropriation certainly isn't difficult when it comes to food. The crossroads of culture are numerous.

  • Sahib ali23 days ago

    Congrats for your top story 😍😍😍

  • JBaz23 days ago

    Noce article, very informative and nice read. Congratulations

  • Looks amazing! Another fantastic piece and enjoyed the Lunar New Year discussion, it was my favourite time in Korea. Pictures look awesome! 🀍

  • Cathy holmes24 days ago

    That looks really good, except for the mushrooms, that but personal taste thing. Speaking of mushrooms, wth is mushroom ketchup? Nevermind, I don't want to know. 😁

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