Saturday, January 08, 2005

Mostly Food

Many Chinese traditions for welcoming the New Year and creating good fortune in the year ahead include food. See "Prepare for the New Year" for other things to do.

Offer a Sacrifice to the Kitchen God - Many families have a poster of the Kitchen God in their kitchen. The custom is to offer a ceremonial sacrifice to the Kitchen God, to make sure that he gives a good report on the family's behavior when he returns to heaven. Sticky Cake (Nian Gao) is popular, or children may rub honey on him. (Buy a new kitchen god to post on 1/1.)

Prepare a Tray of Togetherness - This is a circular tray with eight compartments, each containing symbolic foods such as lotus seeds and lychee nuts, that provides a sweet beginning to the New Year.

New Year's Eve
An important tradition on New Year's Eve is for families to gather together and spend the evening preparing jiaozi or boiled dumplings (more for families from north of the Yangtze River). According to Chinese Culture Guide Jun Shan, it is common to hide a coin in one of the dumplings. Whoever gets the dumpling with the coin should have good luck in the coming year.

Start with a whole fish on New Year's Eve - but don't eat it all so there will always be plenty in the year to come. Some families are using a whole chicken these days - the idea is the same but they are missing the auspicious sound "yu" for fish! (I think this is a recent innovation, and not a regional difference.)

Stay up late, have your children stay up late -- or at least leave a light on!

New Year's Celebrations - Here are some of the ways you can celebrate Chinese New Year (the date is different every year):

Serve and eat as many lucky foods as possible on the New Year's day:
  • Long life noodles, my children love to try and eat them without braking them to ensure a long life.
  • Dumplings,
  • Citrus (especially those round and golden!) will be seen on most tables.
  • Turnip cake, or lor bak go, can be served on New Year's Day as a symbol of prosperity and rising fortune.
  • Remember an all vegetable dish too - I can't tell if it must have dofu/tofu in it or not.
Whether or not you think cooking Chinese food is adventurous, most Chinese restaurants offer special New Year menus, many with dishes they don't make at any other time of the year. (If you ask, they might have some large wall-hanging calendars too!)

Serve festive foods - Throughout the New Year's season, certain foods are served because they symbolize abundance and good fortune. Besides preparing special dishes, tangerines and oranges are often passed out to children and guests, as they symbolize wealth and good luck.

For simple recipes especially for large groups of youngsters, try Chinese Food You Can Make. For a bit of related trivia and background, read Tea & Chopsticks. For "only food", read Chinese New Year's Food

Updated: 3/2007.

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