Chinese New Year is a time for family reunions and hopeful beginnings. Hence, there is a “reunion dinner” that takes place on the eve of this holiday. But it is believed that to achieve one’s goals for the year ahead, certain “lucky” foods must be served for the occasion.
Similar wordings and/or appearances are the reasons why some dishes are considered to be magnets of good luck. These foods have essential rules of preparation and consumption to preserve the promise of a triumphant, prosperous, and harmonious year.
Successful ‘year cake’
The traditional food to be eaten on Chinese New Year is the nian gao, which is also known as the sweet glutinous rice cake or a “year cake.” Generally, its ingredients are only glutinous rice flour and liquid slab sugar. But being served for over a thousand years in different regions of China, nian gao already has varieties in sweetness, savory, and texture. Though it is usually dished up in bite-size pieces, it implies a big fortune for the new year.
In Cantonese, the words “nian” and “gao” are akin to the sounds of “year” and “higher” respectively. Thus, the food is more suitable to be eaten at the beginning of the year because of the signification that one can reach success in his/her endeavors, particularly in career matters.
For those who desire abundance for this year, a lot of meal options must be served.
Among the traditional Chinese New Year foods are dumplings. It is popularly eaten year-round but its symbolic presentation makes it appropriate for the new year. Chinese people consider that dumplings can induce wealth because of its shape’s resemblance to gold ingot.
Commonly, dumplings are made of chopped vegetables and minced meat that are wrapped in dough skin. Its fillings contain different meanings as well. For example, Chinese sauerkraut dumplings are avoided in the new year because they can indicate difficult prospects. But to make dumplings “lucky”, they must be formed with a good number of pleats. Some people also insert a copper coin in the dumpling, and then whoever eats it can have a chance of becoming wealthy.
It is also believed that the number of dumplings you eat on the Chinese New Year can foretell the worth you will earn for the year.
Aside from dumplings, spring rolls are also significant during this holiday. These deep-fried rolls of vegetable and meat contents have an appearance comparable to gold bars. Hence, this food is associated with bearing wealth.
For a non-savory dish that can still bring abundance, one can also have a tray of togetherness. It is usually comprised of eight snacks like candies, nuts, or fruits. To gain prosperity, opt for chestnuts, peach seeds, almonds, apricots, hazelnuts, pomelos, prunes, oranges, and sweet treats.
Fish and chicken are undeniably common in cuisines. But for Chinese New Year, these meats are crucial to be served as a whole.
Both the cooking and consumption of fish meat need to be in full. Its head and tail mean that there is a start and a finish that must be completed. Additionally, in Mandarin, the pronunciation of “fish” is similar to the word “surplus.” Thus, Chinese people also relate this meal as a symbol of more wealth to come.
Meanwhile, preparing a whole chicken dish is important if one hopes for unity. Serving every chicken part uncut therefore suggests a coming together of the whole family.
For those who do not prefer meats, sweet rice balls or tangyuan can also invoke family reunions. Tangyuan is made with glutinous rice flour and is cooked either in a thin broth or deep-fried. Regarding its belief origin, tangyuan is linked to a Cantonese phrase that indicates completeness, which can also signify contentment with one’s life. Moreover, a small change of the word’s tone can also modify its meaning to “family reunion.”
Noodles as a symbol of long life are well-known throughout Asia. It is served not only for Chinese New Year but also during birthdays and weddings. When cooking and eating the noodles, one must also be mindful not to cut them to sustain the idea of a long and healthy life. The usual length of longevity noodles is two feet long but it is also believed that the longer the noodles one eats, the luckier he or she can become.
Fruits like oranges and pomelos can elicit prosperity. Citrus fruits are believed to produce good fortune and happiness as well. Tangerine, which has a homonym in Cantonese that means luck, is the most traditional fruit to be served and to be given to the visitors.
Aside from citrus fruits, gold-colored grapes are also valuable for Chinese New Year. It is said to bring good fortune and can also represent success, abundance, and fertility. — Chelsey Keith P. Ignacio