In the Mood for Love, A Vintage Chinese Valentine
This February 14th is a day for love. I'm not only talking about Valentine's Day, a celebration of romantic love. February 14th is also this year's Chinese (Lunar) New Year, which honors the love of family and friends. This lucky coincidence led me to recall Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love (2000), a gorgeous rhapsody on love and a maybe-affair, set in 1960's Hong Kong:
Non-Cantonese speakers will need to follow the subtitles, but the translation is not the essence. The film's slow pace, subtle lighting, prolonged, meaningful looks between the two protagonists, and plaintive instrumental soundtrack speak the universal language of love and longing, no words required. There are few blockbuster films with Asian romantic leads, but after seeing the gorgeous Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung in this film, you'll feel cheated that you haven't seen more of them. It also captures the forgotten glamour of that era. Maggie Cheung's wardrobe of restrained but sexy vintage cheongsams will make you long for Chinese couture. I've been looking for dresses like that ever since first seeing this film a decade ago. A classic song from 1946 by equally glamourous Shanghai singer Zhou Xuan, which was used as the title track, captures the vicissitudes of a long-term relationship:
The years slipped past like flowers...
the vigorous light of the moon
bright, clever as glacier snow
our beautiful life
my affectionate spouse
this happy and fulfilled family...
suddenly gloomy clouds and fog loom across this solitary isle
clouds of gloom and melancholy
Ah, my lovely Motherland
when can I go back into your arms
and see these fogs dispel
and behold you give off light again
as in those flower-like years
and of the moon...
So celebrate this February 14th with the one, or the ones, you love. In the Mood for Love makes me long for vintage cheongsams, and whets my appetite for Chinese dumplings. Whether or not you are feeling lucky in love, the Chinese New Year is about fresh starts, luck and fortune. The foods traditionally eaten on this most significant of Chinese holidays are all symbolic of these. Make some dumplings, and give yourself little bundles of luck.
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dumplings symbolize good luck, packaged inside
Makes 4 dozen.
4 leaves of Chinese (Napa) cabbage
2 chinese dried black mushrooms, soaked in warm water until softened
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoon cooking sherry
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 lb. lean ground pork
1 package prepared dumpling wrappers
For dipping sauce: soy sauce plus any combination of sesame oil, chili sauce or oil, vinegar, minced scallions, minced cilantro, minced ginger
1. Finely chop the cabbage, scallions, and black mushrooms and transfer to a mixing bowl.
2. Add soy sauce, sherry, salt, cornstarch and ground pork to the vegetable mixture. Mix until smooth and well blended.
3. Place wrapper on a clean surface or your palm, and add filling by heaping teaspoonfuls into the center.
4. Moisten the inside edges of the filled wrappers with a little water and fold over, forming crescents. Press them together, making pleats to seal. Make sure they are well-sealed, or the filling will fall out when you cook them.
5. Bring a large pot of water to boil and carefully drop in dumplings. There should be a lot of room for them to move around.
6. When water resumes boiling, add 1 cup of water to cool. When the water resumes boiling again, add another cup of cold water to cool. Repeat this process one more time. When the water boils for the third time, the dumplings will be done. They should be floating.
7. Serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauce. Mine is a blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, black Chinese vinegar, a hint of sugar, and minced ginger, scallions and cilantro.
© Linda Shiue, 2010