In all of the discussions I've seen, heard, and participated in about Chinese New Year dining traditions, I've never heard it suggested that eating the animal the upcoming year was named for would be an appropriate tribute to the new year. But why not devour the namesake creature of the spent year? I'll be doing just that come Tuesday night, in fact, because we are leaving the year of the pig behind.
The coming year is the year of the Rat and it occurred to me that I somehow have collected a photo essay on preparing and cooking rats (see above), and I recall a National Geographic photo of a deli in Guangzhou showing barbecued rats hanging alonside the ducks and and bbq pork. USDA Choice rat might be hard to come by in the US, but in New York, at least, one can score guinea pig (a rodent relative) at Ecuadorean delis, and there's probably some other edible rodent around that I'm not recalling at the moment.
Is it possible, I wonder, to eat one's way around the whole Chinese zodiac? Well, let's see. Starting withe easy stuff, we also have chicken (Rooster), which everone who is not a vegetarian has eaten. Almost as many people have eaten Ox (that's cow to you and me). Boar/pig? Starting with our breakfast bacon. Sheep is mighty tasty, especially on a skewer. That gets us to Horse, which is widely available in French Canada, even in tartare form, which I've had at a fast-food frites chain. (Disclaimer: I downed a coule of beers first.) Snake? I've had that, too, in Shanghai, in a soup. A little clam chowdery, it was. Dog? I've yet to have the opportunity, though many have eaten man's best friend. The eating of Monkey in China has been documented, though the horror stories about eating it raw from the freshly cracked scull of a live monkey have never been proven to be anything but urban myths. I have no idea what a Tiger steak would taste like, but I'm sure at least some part of a Tiger has been eaten in Asia, though I won't speculate publicly on which part.
After the above-mentioned Rat, that brings us to Dragon. Hmm, isn't that on the endangered species list?
Gary Soup is a blogger, tweeter and sometimes poster to foodie web sites, usually blathering about Chinese food. He is a retired transport planner with an abiding interest in all aspects of Asian and other ethnic foods and their place in the world. He has twice been married to Shanghainese women who happened to be good cooks and consequently is well-grounded in Shanghainese "jia chang" cuisine. He is based in San Francisco, but spends as much time as he can in Shanghai and New York and can sometimes be seen prowling the streets of Montreal. He is the author of two articles on food in the guidebook "Urbanatomy: Shanghai" and has been a guest blogger for the Asian Art Museum on the food of Shanghai. He currently maintains two Blogger blogs, and posts a lot to flickr. Some earlier online efforts of Mr. Soup drift about the World Wide Web as cyberspace junk.