CHINESE NEW YEAR
Family meals as a reunion symbol.
Chinese people not only sit together to have a meal but they also prepare together the food that they are going to eat. Some food is cooked a few days before the New Year's Day.
A “reunion dinner” called Tuan Yuan Fan 团圆 饭, (Christmas dinner or Thanksgiving dinner in other cultures), is celebrated on New Year's Eve. All the members of the family usually gather together at the eldest family member's home.
Once the reunion dinner finishes, it is a tradition to take a family picture. This picture is taken in the dining room or in front of the house. The man with the highest status “head of family” sits in the center.
There is usually an abundance of food prepared for these meals. Food includes dishes of meat (pork and chicken), and also fish dishes. A special importance is given to some types of meat (cured meat: duck and Chinese sausage) and seafood (lobster and abalone - a type of shellfish-) which are only eaten on very special occasions.
They also cook a “hot pot” hou guo (火鍋); It is a great mixture of tastes and textures which Chinese people often cook in winter time. It consists on cooking different types of food in a hot soup with different sauces and they put it in the center of the table. It has meat, vegetables, mushrooms, wontons (Traditional Chinese noodles), egg and even seafood.
Since number eight is associated with good luck, eight different dishes are served. If someone of the family died the year before then only seven dishes are served. Sometimes during the dinner the family members give red envelopes or boxes “tao hongbao” with money to each other. Even amounts of money mean good luck and honor whereas odd amounts of money mean misfortune.
Food whose names are homophones of words with positive meanings are eaten on these days. It is a way of bringing good luck, happiness, prosperity, wealth, etc . Even some of the ingredients used have names which are homophones of those words.
Buddha delights: (traditional Chinese: 羅漢齋; simplified Chinese: 罗汉斋, pinyin: luóhànzhāi). This vegetarian dish is a homophone of a kind of hair which some black seaweed has. Its pronunciation is “fat choy” which in Cantonese sounds like “prosperity”.
Chicken: It is boiled. This is a type of meat that all families, no matter how wealthy they are, can afford on New Year's Day.
Fish: The pronunciation of fish (魚 yú) is a homophone of “surplus” (yu 餘). It is also a symbol of good luck and prosperity. The same way fish reproduce very quickly, eating fish means that descendants can multiply and prosper forever. It is the last dish they serve so they not always eat a lot of it but they always place it on the table at the end of the dinner.
José L. MELERO
Aritcles related to the Chinese New Year.
Leeks: The pronunciation of leek (蒜苗 / 大蒜 Suan Miao / Da Suan) is a homophone of money (算 Suan). It is usually served on a dish with slices of Chinese sausage or Chinese smoked meat (the slices look like coins).
Jau gok: (traditional Chinese: 金元寶; simplified Chinese: 金元宝, pinyin: jīnyuánbǎo). A type of small pastry that looks like ancient Chinese gold ingots.
Jiaozi: (交子 which means “to join”). They are small pastry filled with minced meat or vegetables. On New Year's Eve, all the family sits together to prepare and cook them until midnight or the so called called Zi hour in the ancient China. Making the Jiaozi is called Bao Jiaozi. Bao means to wrap. Since the shape of the ravioli looks like gold ingots, “ancient Chinese money”, making the ravioli means wrapping good luck and eating them means good omen as this will bring opulence to their lives. They are steamed and they are one of the main dishes of this celebration.
Ju zi: “Mandarin orange”, (Chinese: 橘子, pinyin: Juzi), kam “oranges” (Chinese: 柑, pinyin: GAN) in Cantonese. Besides, the name gik (橘JU) in the Teochew dialect is a homophone of “luck" o "fortune" (吉ji).
Kwatji: “Melon seeds” (Chinese: 瓜子, pinyin: Guazi). Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are also eaten.
Niangao: (Simplified Chinese: 粘糕 or 年糕; pinyin: “zhān gāo” or “nián gāo”; literally speaking means sticky cake or year cake"). It is also known as a rice cake in the Western countries. This recipe is more than two thousand years old. In ancient times it was believed to be an offering to god or to the ancestors and this way this sweet snack has become popular during the Chinese Spring celebration. This word is a homophone of “Nian Gao” (年高), which means “better each year”, that is to say, more money, have a better paid job and the hope to have a good health. Another curious thing is that different types of Niangao have different meanings too: the yellow Niangao means gold, and the white Niangao means silver.
Yi mein (伊麵): Chinese noodles which are served uncut to show and represent longevity and long life. They have a golden color because they are fried so as to give them a stronger consistency. Besides, golden and red colors are the most beloved Chinese colors.
Yok Gon / Rou Gan / Bakkwa (Chinese: 肉干, pinyin: ròugān). Dried salty or sweet meat which is marinated and smoked and which is eaten or preserved in the shape of sausages to be cut in the shape of coins.
Taro pancakes: (Chinese: 芋頭糕, yùtougāo). Made with Taro, a type of vegetable. The pancakes are cut in dices and then fried.
Turnip pancakes: (Chinese: 蘿蔔糕, luóbogāo). A meal cooked with grated radish and rice flour. It is often fried and cut into dices.
Yusheng or Yee: (Traditional Chinese: 魚生; simplified Chinese: 鱼生, pinyin: Yusheng) Raw fish salad. It is believed that it brings good luck. This meal is usually eaten on the seventh day of the New Year, although it can also be eaten at any time during the celebrations.
The Tangyuan (Traditional Chinese: 湯圓 o 湯團; simplified Chinese: 汤圆 o 汤团). Several names have been used to refer to tangyuan. During the Yongle reign of the Ming Dynasty the name used was yanxiao (元宵), and it was traditionally eaten for the Lantern Festival. This name literally means “first twilight” and refers to the first full moon of the New Year. This name is still used in northern China. However, in southern China it is called tangyuanor tangtuan. According to legends, during the Yuan Shikai government (1912-1916), people didn't like the name yuanxiao because it sounded as “get rid of Yuan” (元宵), and that's why they changed its name into tangyuan which means “dumplings”- or filled balls in a soup-.
It is a meal made with glutinous rice flour. The flour is mixed with some water to make balls which are boiled and eventually served in a sweet soup in bowls. It is mainly eaten during the Lantern Festival and the New Year.
Sweets, dried fruits and nuts: they are presented in red or black envelopes or small boxes.
Sticky cake or year cake
Raw fish salad
filled balls in a soup