We are familiar with the Chinese dishes that are commonly served in the restaurants across the globe. However, some dishes have been included in the New Year menu for a reason.
Also known as jiao zi, signify bringing the new. Jiao means exchange and zi means midnight hour. Together they mean exchange at the midnight. It is believed that by eating dumplings you say goodbye to the old while welcoming the new. Meat, eggs and bamboo shreds are traditionally included in the filling. Eggs denote gold and bamboo means all that’s necessary is available. Some put a coin in of the dumplings on New Year’s feast table. Whoever gets that, is said to have a prosperous year ahead. In some villages of China, the new daughter-in-law of the house is supposed to make the dumplings to be accepted as a part of the family.
Though rice is the staple of Chinese, noodles have been a part of their diet since long. Long noodles means longevity of life. Therefore, long noodles are a part of the new year feast in many households. They are cooked with vegetables, seafood/ meat.
What traditionally started as egg rolls, are known as spring rolls because they form an integral part of the spring festival menu. They symbolise gold bars because of their shape and colour. Most popular version of spring rolls is the deep fried one. However, some regions steam them as well.
Fish symbolises surplus — of food and wealth. Half fish is eaten on the new year for dinner and half of it the next day. This is to ensure that the wealth and food surplus remains through out the year. In some parts of China, red pepper is added to the steamed fish as red symbolizes fire and considered to be lucky.
In many places in China, chicken is cooked as the first meal of the year and offered to the ancestors. A chicken is considered to be a representative of whole and healthy family as one chicken can feed one family. On this day, it is cooked with its head and claws.
This is also known as Nian Gao. Gao means higher or taller. Eating this cake, children are told, will make them taller by the year. They come as savoury or sweet. Savoury ones are usually steamed or cooked along with meat and vegetables. Sweet ones have hibiscus, mint and other flavourings and are dipped in white sugar before eating.
Some symbolic vegetables to consider are:
Seaweed: symbolize wealth and fortune
Lotus seeds: a blessing for many children and a healthy family
Bamboo shoots: represent longevity, as well as going onward and up
Muskmelon and grapefruit: symbolize family and hope. In addition, grapefruit symbolizes wealth and prosperity
Leek/chives: leek (韭 /jiǔ) sounds similar to 久, meaning long and everlasting
Poria mushrooms: another play on words, this mushroom (茯苓 / fú líng) sounds similar to 福禄 (fú lù), or blessings and fortune
What these foods symbolise
Eggs: big and healthy family
Lobster: endless money rolling in
Shrimp: fortune and wealth
Roasted pig: peace
Tofu: happiness and fortune for the entire family
Fish: surplus and wealth
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