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Food and Chinese New Year (1 st day, 1 st moon)

Lion DanceOf all Chinese festivals, the Lunar New Year is the most sensational and joyous. Everywhere in China and overseas, Chinese communities and families prepare for a series of celebratory events that can last anywhere from one day to 2 weeks - the reunion dinner on the eve; the first day of the year demands a banquet; the luncheon of the second day is devoted to 'starting the year'; and there are celebrations on the seventh day ('birthday for all') and on the fifteenth day (the 'new fifteenth' or Lantern Festival). During this festival time, marketplaces are bursting with color - plum blossoms, red azaleas, oranges and tangerines fill street-side stalls. Whole roast pigs are on display in restaurant windows, and candied kumquats, lotus nuts, and melon seeds are available in grocery. The Lunar New Year marks the coming of Spring in China which is why it's called 'Spring Festival' in China .

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are celebrated as a family affair, a time of reunion and thanksgiving. Throughout New Year's Day, everyone peppers their speech with words and phrases of auspicious things. No unpleasant words or thoughts are permitted to be spoken. This idea is carried through to food eaten during the festival. People try to put the best of everything on the table for this occasion, depending on their means. At the reunion meal, every dish will have a name which symbolize in some way health, honor and riches. One specialty served is called 'Broth of Prosperity", a chicken soup filled with "gold and silver ingots" (egg dumplings and pigeon eggs).Chinese Lantern Seasoned pork shoulder is called "Mist of Harmony". Thin, semi transparent strands of bean vermicelli are referred to as "Silvery Threads of Longevity" and platters of chicken wings imply "To Soar One Thousand Miles".

Other auspicious Chinese New Year food:

  • Winter bamboo shoots, because they grow so tall, suggest the phrase "Year after Year, Ascend to Great Heights ".
  • Tangerines in Chinese sounds like "Luck".
  • Giant pork meatballs, or "Lion's Heads", and hard boiled eggs (one for each member of the family) symbolize happy reunion because of their round shape.
  • Fish, sounds like "yu" which means in abundance . It stands for endless wealth and happiness
  • Chicken or fish served whole with head and tail to suggest "a favorable start and finish" and symbolize the unity of the family.
  • Oyster because it sounds like "Ho See" which means "Good Business"
  • Hair seaweed or black moss seaweed because it's called "Fat Choy", close to the sound of "Good Fortune"
  • Shrimp symbolizes "Happiness" as it's called "Har" which is like laughing - "ha ha ha"
  • Lotus roots, in Chinese is " lin ngau " , which sounds like "lin yau", which means "every year you have plenty."
  • Lotus seed in Chinese is " lin jee" , which sounds like a phrase that means "every year you have a son." To the Chinese, having a son is very important



A popular New Year dish made in family kitchens throughout northern China are small meat dumplings called "jiaozi", eaten on midnight of New Year's Eve. Wrapped in a thin layer of dough, the filling consists of chopped pork and cabbage, ginger, shrimp, black mushrooms, scallions, garlic and ground pepper. Some portion of the hundreds of dumplings made in a single household were traditionally stuffed with copper coins, pieces of gold and silver, or even precious stones to suggest a prosperous year ahead. Edible surprise fillings included peanuts or dates and chestnuts. Peanuts ("sheng") stood for long life, dates and chestnuts presaged

the imminent arrival of a son because in Chinese the words "date", and "early", and "chestnut" and "son" are homophones.

To cook jiaozi, the chef drops them in a large pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes, then removes the pot from the heat and leaves the jiaozi in the water for about 15 minutes. When boiling jiaozi , they try not to break them, for broken jiaozi shows your wealth floating away. If they are pan-fried, the dish is called "potstickers" (guo tie) because the bottom burns a bit. Both styles of dumplings are eaten with variety of communal dipping sauces such as soy sauce, vinegar, chili bean sauce or chili oil.


Sweet Glutinous Rice PuddingIn South China, during the New Year, there are many sweet pastries to try (more so than in the North). Sweet pastries are not normally consumed in the Chinese diet, but they are considered special treats for festive occasions. Small sweets - which are easy to make and inexpensive - make a holiday memorable, especially for children who eagerly look forward to such mouth watering edibles as nine-layer cake, fried dough or date-filled pastry.

The most popular New Year dessert is "niangao", a sweet steamed glutinous rice pudding. When people eat this dish, they preface their first bite with the phrase "promotion step by step" because the word for cake also sounds like the word for "soaring high". Like jiaozi, the pudding may be filled with date paste, walnuts, or preserved egg yolks because these items represent long life, harmony, and many children

Connoisseurs of Chinese food regard the New Year cake made in Ningpo ( Zhejiang province) as the very best because it used glutinous rice flour made from the winter harvest. Niangao from Ningpo is not sweet but salty in taste, with vegetables, shredded meat, cabbage, turnip, or spinach added to the mixture. The niangao from Jiangsu Province is considered noteworthy because it is made from reddish purple rice which gives the finished cake a natural redness. The addition of pine seeds, walnuts, and sweet osmanthus, give it a distinctive flavor much appreciated in the central provinces of China .

New Year cake can be served warm or fried - every region has its preference. Some version of this recipe use thin slices of glutinous rice cake simmered in a clear broth to which celery and shredded winter bamboo shoots are added. Epicureans consider niangao a wonderful main dish that is best served by itself, accompanied by a glass of fine wine.


Mandarin OrangesFor the next few days of the Lunar New Year, a steady stream of friends and relatives visits the home, and a number of sumptuous meals are prepared. Before guests sample the main dishes, however, a variety of snacks in the form of fruits, nuts and seeds are first offered. Almonds, hazelnuts, pomeloes, pomegranate, apples, melon seeds, candied tangerines, peaches and apricots - the Chinese like to serve food with seeds as they represent children and convey wishes for fertility.

Some of the more popular candied delicacies are presented in an eight-sided tray called "The Tray of Togetherness". Each of the items displayed invokes good fortune, For example, kumquats symbolize prosperity because the first Chinese written character for "kumquats means "gold", while coconuts will promote togetherness. The Chinese word for lotus seeds sounds like the words for "many children", and the word for "lotus beans" suggest a full wallet. Sometimes a sweet soup like red bean soup with lotus seed is served. All of these snacks are economical, distinctive and special, making tasty contribution to the feasts of the New Year.

Here are some recipes for Chinese New Year:
1. Lion's Head
2. Longan with Lotus Seeds
3. Braised Chinese Mushrooms with Black Moss
4. Jewelled Duck
5. Shark's Fin Soup
6. Fish Maw Soup
7. Braised Abalone with Sea Cucumber & Chinese Mushroom
8. Chinese Sponge Cake
9. Boiled Pot Sticker

Fortune in Chinese Character


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Last Modified: 11/28/11.