Growing up in a Chinese family, when I think of special occasions and holidays, the celebrations have always revolved around food - whether it’s a 10-course meal served at weddings or moon cakes which are only available once a year for the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Now imagine with a holiday as popular and important as Lunar New Year, festivities in our family are filled with days of big feasts and unique ‘must-eats’ dishes that also symbolize good fortune in the coming year. Starting with a family gathering on Lunar New Year’s Eve called the reunion dinner (團年飯) and through the first week of the new year, here are some auspicious foods that my family and I would eat to celebrate:
Rice cakes (年糕) - served sweet or savoury in flavour, they are usually steamed or pan fried. The sweet rice cakes are made from water, sugar and rice flour whereas the savoury ones are made from radish or taro, rice flour and minced sausage. In Cantonese and Mandarin, the word 糕 (pronounced as gao or goh) has the same pronunciation as 高 from the saying 步步高升 which means to rise higher with every step. It’s believed that those who eat this will be promoted in school or with work in the upcoming year.
Noodles (麵) – commonly referred to as longevity noodles (長壽麵) during Lunar New Year, this dish can be cooked in many ways from pan fried with sauce to boiled in soup. Since noodles are longer in length, Chinese people believe that it's symbolic to having good health and living a long life. For this reason, noodles are also served during one's birthday.
Fish (魚) - this dish is commonly steamed and eaten with soy cause, green onion and ginger. The pronunciation of fish in both Mandarin and Cantonese sounds like the last word in the phrase 年年有餘, meaning to have excess/surplus (usually referring to money and food) every year. The fish is also served in whole along with the head and tail meaning to have a good year from beginning to end. Families who do not like steamed fish may cook it in a different style such as deep frying which gives off a nice golden colour.
Glutinous rice ball (湯圓) - similar to sweet rice cakes, this is another dessert that is commonly served during Lunar New Year (as well as the Mid-Autumn Festival). Usually filled with sesame, red bean or peanut paste, they have a chewy texture and are served hot. Since it has a sticky exterior and the pronunciation in Cantonese and Mandarin sounds like the word 'reunion' (團圓), it also symbolizes ‘togetherness’ with your family.
Tangerines (吉) - usually eaten as a snack throughout the week of Lunar New Year, tangerines are believed to bring great luck since it is a homonym for the word luck in Chinese. It's also a common practice to buy tangerine plants for your home or gift to others, wishing them great luck (大 吉 大 利).
Through this article, our insiders, QN wanted to share her family story and celebrate her culture with all of us.
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