I don’t need an excuse to make Chinese food at home, but Chinese New Year is a fun excuse to have. I love Chinese food. All the different seasonings like soy sauce, chilies, ginger, and dark sesame oil, create a rich and flavorful meal. Additionally, some meals like stir fries are quick and easy to prepare. As a cook, it is one of my aspirations to learn how to make a variety of Chinese foods. I have an insatiable curiosity about all things food related so it is hard to resist the temptation to write a post about this special occasion. As I learn about different foods and cultures, I want to share my findings in hopes to encourage you to expand your food repertoire. Also, in the process of sharing, I might learn a thing or two from one of you.
With such a rich and important Chinese American history in the US, learning about the different traditions is one way to respect our differences and common values. Traditions. Good Health. Long life. Success. Prosperity. Auspiciousness. Family. Food.
A list of some dishes served for Chinese New Year and their meaning
Spring Rolls symbolize wealth because their shape resembles a gold bar.
Dumplings, because of their shape symbolize family reunion and wealth. The crescent shape is like the ancient Chinese coins called silver ingots.
Longevity Noodles symbolize long life and happiness. Never cut the noodles, it is ok to slurp these babies up.
Whole fish symbolizes an increase in wealth, or surplus, “May you always have more than you need.” The word for fish in Chinese, “Yú”, sounds like the word for surplus. I linked my recipe for rainbow trout. If you make this recipe for Chinese New Year, do not cut off the heads and tails. Serve the fish intact. The “beginnings” and “ends” have significant meaning for Chinese New Year. Another recipe to try is whole steamed fish from David Tanis of the New York Times.
Vegetable dishes are also important because the spring is the time to plant new seeds. Bok Choy is a favorite or try my Sugar Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms. Even my Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise would work.
Fresh fruit like oranges are important, as the round shape and color represent wholeness and good fortune.
Glutenous Rice Cakes Nian Gao, the round shape symbolizes family togetherness and the sweet taste means a rich and sweet life.
On New Year’s Day it is important to eat a vegetarian meal. You can make my fried rice recipe and omit the salmon and add sautéed broccoli and spinach.
Links for more information about Chinese New Year
This list of foods and their symbolism is short and generalized. My idea to write about the different foods and their symbolism is not meant to Americanize an important Chinese tradition, but to introduce the significance for each dish. You can find more information from these websites that I used as resources. The Spruce, Chinese New Year 2018, and China Highlights. Here is a link for information about the Lunar Year of the Dog.
The idea of preparing a traditional Chinese New Year feast is daunting, especially because I have no experience at it. In preparation for Chinese New Year the making and eating of specific foods is a huge part of the celebration. Also, having family around to celebrate with is central to the New Year celebration. This list is just a small selection of some foods served during Chinese New Year. Because preparing a Chinese New Year feast takes a lot of work, I plan to build up my menu a little at a time. Every year I hope to get closer to making a full feast of my own. Until then, baby steps. It is my hope that this sample whets your appetite for more and inspires you to cook Chinese food at home.
Gǒunián dàjí, “Lots of luck for this Dog year”
Xīnnián hǎo, “Happy New Year”
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