Today marks the beginning of our Chinese New Year recipes in honor of the upcoming Lunar New Year on January 25. To kick off the day, let’s dig into some Ru Yi Cai, or “as you wish” vegetables.
In the coming weeks, expect more of our spectacular “heavy-hitter” meals (yìng cài). You won’t want to miss a thing we write between now and the end of January, as nearly everything will pertain to the Chinese New Year.
SO, WHAT IS RU YI CAI?
Traditional Chinese New Year fare includes Ru Yi Cai. There is no one “right” version, and not every family is vegetarian. But the soybean sprouts are the one thing they all have in common.
Keep in mind that soybean sprouts are different from the more typical mung bean sprout. The sprouted form of the soybean has the characteristic long, crunchy white root but also a firm, bright yellow soybean at the end of the root.
Now I must veer off-topic to talk about soybean sprouts without becoming too technical. The ru yi is a curving ornamental object with a long handle and a rounded top, like a soybean sprout.
The Chinese characters for “yì” (like) and “yì” (meaning, wish, desire, wish, imagination, and “like”) are combined to form the word ruyi. Even while the name and its connection to the object’s appearance in the classic Chinese folk tale Journey to the West remain a mystery, both are widely recognized as having originated in China. The legendary Monkey King is armed with a (rúyì jīngū bàng), or “Whatever-You-Will Golden Weapon,” a mystical weapon that does as its master wishes.
That legend, along with others like it, helped elevate the ruyi to the status of a ceremonial relic and emblem of authority and prosperity.
That’s why those tender little sprouts of soy in this dish are so significant. Our Chinese New Year dinner isn’t complete without Ru Yi Cai, since it symbolizes our hope that all of our wishes will come true in the next year. This is a festival dedicated to good fortune and the fulfillment of dreams, after all!
THIS VARIATION OF THE RECIPE
Soybean sprouts and tatsoi (also known as Shanghai bok choy) are common ingredients in traditional Shanghainese ru yi cai.
Tatsoi, or rosette bok choy, is a unique vegetable that can only be found in wintertime Chinese markets. The Chinese characters for these ingredients are variously written as tā kē cài, tā cài, jhu cài (chrysanthemum vegetable), and wū tā cài.
This dish is so popular that it causes this winter vegetable to become widely available in the wet markets around the Chinese New Year. The Shanghainese pronunciation of ta ke cai is closer to the meaning of the phrase “to get out of the bitter sea,” which is pronounced “ta ku cai.” There should be even more symbolism.
- 300g of tatsoi (leaves separated and washed thoroughly)
- 225g of trimmed soybean sprouts
- 4 cloves of sliced garlic
- 3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil
- Cook the garlic for just a few seconds in the hot oil (3–4 teaspoons) in a wok. Put in the soybean sprouts and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
- Stir-fry the tatsoi or Shanghai bok choy for a minute after you add them. Put in some salt, sugar, sesame oil, white pepper, and oyster sauce.
- Continue to stir-fry for another minute or two or until the vegetables are at the desired tenderness. Start serving right away.