Happy Chinese New Year 2014 + some January food discoveries

I contemplated whether or not to write about Lunar New Year this year because I just wasn’t in the mood for it. This is my first Lunar New Year without my grandma and her absence could not be more magnified at this moment. Back when she was still around, CNY was one of the busiest days in the house. She was meticulous. Every dish had to be carefully and perfectly arranged. All the cups and saucers had to match with the chopsticks. The food had to be piping hot when it was laid before the Chinese deities… It’s too strange not to feel her bustling presence anymore when it used to be displayed, at full force, around this occasion. 

But here we are, and you’re probably wondering why I decided to post anyway. See I was browsing through an old album the other night, looking through photos of my family’s last trip abroad with grandma back in 2007. We were in Taiwan and I was smiling as I went through each photo, then oddly enough I come to this picture of tea eggs:

I remember we were walking around in one of the provinces in Taiwan and I had a whiff of this most amazing smell. I wondered what it was aloud and my grandma pointed to it and said in Hokkien, ‘Tea eggs’. We bought a few pieces and this was the first time I discovered how amazing tea eggs were. Fell in love with them actually. That’s when the idea came to me to write about tea eggs. Tea eggs are very Chinese New Year appropriate and the least I could do was use it to honour this most important occasion as my grandma used to.

Now my grandma was all about the superstitions and symbolisms as most traditional Chinese are. Every object in the Universe probably symbolizes something, and depending on the occasion they could either bring good fortune or bad luck. That’s why during Chinese New Year there would be so much food at our table, all of which will be presented to the Chinese gods so that they may grant us prosperity throughout the year. There would be platters of oranges, chicken, fish, and steamed sweet cakes to usher in wealth and abundance. And of course we would also have eggs, which in this house is usually paired with pork cooked ala Chinese adobo. Eggs symbolize fertility as well as prosperity for the Chinese, so any time there was an offering to the gods we would have that one dish with boiled eggs in them. 

This year I decided to switch it up with these beautifully marbled tea eggs. It’s very hard for me to resist these any time I pass them by, whether in the streets abroad or at the local Chinese flee market. The sellers typically leave the eggs simmering in this gigantic pot full of their own tea-and-spice concoction (as in the picture above). Just the smell is enough to turn your head. Add to that, the eggs develop this lovely sweet flavour when steeped long enough in the tea, making them simply delicious. 

Tea eggs are actually quite easy to make. All you’ll need in terms of equipment is a large pot and a wooden spoon. You start out by boiling the eggs until they are fully cooked.

And then you wash them in cold water until they become cool enough to handle.

Now you can hold the eggs steady as you crack them all over with the back of a spoon. I recommend cracking in lots of places to create a more webbed marbling effect. I only cracked mine in several places so not much marbling happened. Just remember to keep a gentle hand so as not to crack the shells to the point they fall off the egg.

Next grab the tea and spices you will use to create the steeping mixture. It’s generally just a mix of black tea (I recommend authentic tea leaves but you can use the ones from tea bags if you can’t find any), soy sauce, anise, cloves, cinnamon, five-spice, and a bit of sugar.

Now you can just throw that into your pot with the eggs inside, then bring it up to a boil again. Turn down the heat to a simmer at this point and just allow the tea mixture to seep through the cracks of the eggs. After about 40 minutes you can turn off the heat and let it steep. Others actually let their tea eggs simmer for hours which to me isn’t practical at home, but I would recommend that after the 40-minute simmer, just leave the eggs inside the tea mixture overnight to fully develop the flavours.

Tea eggs are best enjoyed warm, so if you left them overnight or for a certain amount of hours, remember to bring your eggs back to a simmer inside the pot when you’re ready to eat them. I love eating these in cold weather like the one we’re enjoying now.

Chinese Tea Eggs
A typical Chinese snack-food, tea eggs are infused with the lovely scent and flavour of black tea. Just a whiff will send your mouth watering!

Makes 6 to 12 eggs
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Ingredients
  1. 6 to 12 eggs
  2. 4 cups water
  3. 6 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  4. 3 Tablespoons pu-erh tea, or other black tea *
  5. 1 cinnamon stick
  6. 1 star anise
  7. 3 cloves
  8. 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  9. 1 teaspoon sugar
Instructions
  1. 1. Place 4 cups of water in medium pot and gently drop in the eggs. Make sure the water completely covers the eggs. Bring the water to a boil on high heat.
  2. 2. Boil the eggs for about 10 minutes or so to make sure the eggs are fully cooked. Transfer the hard-boiled eggs out of the hot boiling water and rinse with cold water.
  3. 3. Using the back of a teaspoon, gently tap the eggshell to crack the shell. The more cracks you make, the more marbled your eggs will be. Be careful not to crack the shells so much that they will completely fall off the eggs.
  4. 4. Return the eggs to the water and add in the soy sauce, tea, and spices. Give it a little stir if desired.
  5. 5. Bring the tea mixture to a boil and immediately turn the heat to low. Simmer for 40 minutes, turn off the heat, and allow to steep for at least 2 hours. The longer the steeping, the better the taste.**
  6. 6. Serve immediately or leave the tea eggs in the mixture overnight to further develop the colour and flavour. Bring the mixture to a boil again before eating as tea eggs are best enjoyed hot.
Notes
  1. * I used authentic Chinese tea leaves and not those cut out from tea bags. I think these have more body and can lend more flavour to the tea eggs.
  2. ** I recommend steeping the tea eggs overnight. The eggs in my photos above were steeped for only 2 hours (I have a weak spot for tea eggs) and as you can see the marbling is very light. They are also not so apparent since I cracked my eggs on certain places only. However they still had the scent and light taste of tea. I forgot to take photos of the other eggs I soaked overnight but they definitely have a deeper colour and taste.
Adapted from Rasa Malaysia blog
http://thetummytrain.com/
If you’re looking for something on the sweet side to make for CNY, here are some of my older favourites  that I’ve made the past few years: First is the Peanut Cookie, which is ESSENTIAL for peanut lovers like myself. I just need to have something with peanut in them during Chinese New Year.

The next is one of my absolute favourite sorts of tart, the Pineapple Tart. This specific version is something I like to eat any time of the year. Its flaky skin and soft tangy pineapple filling are incredibly addictive. It’s different from the thick block-like tarts from Taiwan, but I like it more this way because it feels more like a tart and less like a shortbread. Plus I tend not to candy the pineapple filling so much because I like it to taste fresh. Ugh these are irresistible too!

Other CNY ideas
Though I realise I’m cutting it a little too close, if you too would like to celebrate Chinese New Year with some homemade treats you can still probably squeeze in some time to make any or all of these. To those celebrating Chinese New Year with me this year, 恭喜發財! ;)

~~~

 

Some January Food Discoveries

I think I should make a monthly food discovery post a thing here on the blog. They will feature food I got to taste that were of note but not long enough to sustain a full post.

For instance, these pastillas (soft milk candies) from MAJ Sweet Shoppe. MAJ Sweet Shoppe is a home-based pastillas-making shop located in Malolos, Bulacan. Elle from MAJ was kind enough to send me a pack of her toasted pastillas for me to taste test.

Right from the first bite you would recognize that the ingredients used for these candies are fresh and premium. They smell amazing too! The toasted pastillas is different in that it utilizes sugar to create a crunchy shell outside the soft pastillas which are typically just rolled in a bit of sugar. Somehow this toasting thing works in turning these into even more addictive little nuggets! When I brought a pack to the office our employees were instantly hooked, so much so that an order was immediately made for 30 packs of these mini treats the next day!


This January was also my very first time to try out the different-flavoured Japanese KitKat’s and I am totally in love with the matcha variation. This is probably the only time I’m willing to eat white chocolate, because it certainly does not taste like it! It’s not so sweet and it tastes exactly like matcha (just like the orange variation tastes exactly like orange). I love it! The hype it seems is accurate in this case.


I bought my Japanese KitKat’s online, where they could be very expensive, but the flavours I have now is not even half of what the Japanese have. I can’t wait to give them all a taste!

What about you, any interesting food discoveries lately?

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