Jai and the Lunar New Year
Did you know the Lunar New Year celebration starts on LNY Eve and lasts 16 days?
I recently learned about a vegetarian dish called jai. It originated in China. It’s usually eaten during the Lunar New Year to bring good luck. In Chinese culture, jai is similar to the Japanese mochi soup, ōzoni, that my family and I eat on the first of the year.
Eating Jai during the Lunar New Year
My aunt’s friend made and shared homemade jai with her during the first week of the Lunar New Year. I was so excited to try it. I never had it before. For a long time, I had associated jai with jook, a Chinese rice porridge. I was so wrong! Jai is nothing like jook. Not even close! It’s a vegetarian stew, similar to nishime, a Japanese stew eaten during New Year’s.
The jai was delicious. I ate it over several days. I savored it as much as I could. It was interesting trying the different types of mushrooms; some I’ve never seen before. My favorite was the wood ear mushroom. Yum! The texture was crunchy.
Like ōzoni, there are different ways to make jai. I plan to make my version, if not this LNY, next.
Here’s a recipe that resembled my auntie’s friend’s jai.
Jai is known as “Monk’s food” or “Buddha’s Delight.” The tradition is based on an ancient Buddhist theory that a vegetarian diet for the first five days of the new year purifies the body. Moreover, a vegetarian diet protects animals from harm (Nakamoto, 2018).
“Hope You Get Rich!”
In my featured image, there’s a “hope you get rich” lai see or the lucky red envelope next to the jai dish. I purchased a pack of those envelopes when I saw actor and comedian Ronny Chieng in late 2021 at the Hawai’i Theatre.
This is a clip of the real meaning behind “Gong Xi Fa Cai” in Mandarin and “Gong Hei Fat Choy” in Cantonese. Ronny is hilarious!
I pray that this year brings a lot of solace and peace. Our world and its people would greatly appreciate this.
Nakamoto, M. (2018). Make jai for chinese new year. Retrieved: https://islandscene.com/make-jai-for-chinese-new-year