6 Symbolic Foods to Celebrate the Chinese New Year
The Lunar New Year is the most important event in the Chinese calendar, as well as in many other Southeast Asian countries. As with many festivals, food is a fairly central theme in the New Year celebrations. While an assortment of food is enjoyed during this time, there are several dishes and ingredients that are considered particularly auspicious.
Dumplings are often eaten for special occasions but are particularly significant during the Chinese New Year. There are a few reasons behind this. Firstly, the Chinese name for dumpling sounds similar to the words ‘exchange’ and ‘midnight hour’, so the food is used as a symbol for switching from the old to the new. As such, the dumplings will be prepared at this time, and when they are eaten it is representative of saying goodbye to the old and welcoming in the new.
The dumpling itself is also a symbol of an ingot, meaning that they are a sign of wealth. It is believed that the more dumplings you eat, the more money you will gain in the coming year. While the exact fillings are down to taste, all dumplings for the New Year will contain egg, as the golden colour of the yolk is again symbolic of money and wealth. To further this connection with money, a coin will be added to one of the dumplings, and whoever eats that dumpling is said to have good luck for the coming year.
In China, oranges are considered a symbol of prosperity and happiness, and as such, are commonly found in stores around the time of the Lunar New Year. Round and gold in colour, the oranges are also representative of wealth, fullness and luck. This is boosted by the fact that the Chinese word for orange sounds the same as the word for ‘success’. Often the stems will be left on the oranges, as this is representative of longevity.
While noodles are a commonly enjoyed dish in China and other Southeast Asian countries, during the Lunar New Year, the main ingredient is upgraded to a longer form. Known as cháng shòu miàn, meaning ‘longevity noodles’, this elongated noodle is symbolic of a long life; the longer the noodle the longer the life! As part of this, the noodles cannot be cut, and chewing must be avoided, as this can be seen as cutting your life short. Therefore, for the new year, a lot of slurping will be required when eating this dish!
Extra meaning can be added to the dish by the ingredients that top the noodles. For example, the addition of eggs will symbolise having a big, happy and healthy family, whereas seafood is representative of wealth and fortune.
In China, fish is representative of extra wealth, as the word fish is pronounced the same as the word for ‘surplus’. Therefore, fish will be served at the New Year’s celebratory meals, as it represents having more than enough food and money for the year to come. In keeping with the idea that the fish brings ‘extra’ to the family, half of the fish will be enjoyed for dinner, while the second half will be eaten the following day. The fish is typically served whole, with the head and tail still intact, and many will place the fish on the table with the head pointing towards the elders.
A whole chicken will also be served with many New Year’s feasts, and this component is representative of family reunion and marriage between families. With the Lunar New Year seeing millions of people returning home for the festivities, the idea of family unity is a core theme of the celebrations. As part of this, the chicken also acts as an offering to the ancestors.
Some traditions also see significance in the feet and wings of the chicken. The chicken feet, considered a delicacy by some, are thought to help people grasp on to wealth, while the wings represent flying higher and progressing.
Sweet Rice Cakes
There are two varieties of these cakes, one made using sticky glutinous rice and one with yellow rice, meaning that they are available in two different textures and colours. Also known as New Year Cake or Nian Gao, these sweet rice cakes are essential Lunar New Year desserts. Originally, these cakes were presented as offerings to Gods and ancestors in ancient times; however, they are now enjoyed every day of the year. They still remain a traditional New Year dish, though, and are symbolic of becoming more successful, as ‘nian gao’ sounds the same as the word for ‘tall’ or ‘high’.
If you need any Chinese food, snacks or drinks to celebrate the Lunar New Year, then check out the range available at our Chinese supermarket online.