23 Jan 2017 - 4 min read
Having lived in Malaysia for over 20 years, I’ve learned so much about the Chinese community around me, and how fascinating things get, before and during Chinese New Year.
My neighbors used to tell me that sweeping the floor before Chinese New Year is good in order to sweep off the bad and make way for the good. While I’m still trying to understand such a taboo, my Chinese cousins, on the other hand, keep themselves busy every year, decorating their homes with bright colors that are believed to divert more good fortunes to their doors.
Chinese New Year is one of my favorite times of the year; so it is for my fellow Chinese friends. It’s that time of the year where you can have good excuses to shop for new shoes and clothes, do your hair, eat as much as you like without feeling guilty, and light up massive fireworks. Also, everyone’s excited about ‘Ang Pow!’
Chinese New Year is an important event for the Chinese as it is the time for them to celebrate a year of hard work and spend quality time with their loved ones. For them, it’s a great way to start a brand new year — and in order to have a good year ahead, one must first have a good start, along with lucky food.
Lucky food is food which the Chinese consider to be good in bringing good luck to anyone eating it. Each of the dishes served during Chinese New Year carries a symbolic meaning. These lucky dishes are believed to either bring good luck, wealth, closure or longevity.
Did you know? The meaning of each of these lucky foods are based on their appearance and how their Chinese names are being pronounced. The Chinese named many things based on symbolisms and their meanings.
From preparing these dishes to finally eating them, these 5 foods will make good additions to your upcoming Chinese New Year menu!
In Mandarin, the Chinese word for “fish” is “ Yú (鱼).” As mentioned earlier, the Chinese named many things based on symbolisms and their meanings. In this case, the word Yú carries another meaning, too. It also means ‘extras.’ These extras are usually referred to the amount of extra money or food they have.
Chinese people believe that if they’re able to save until the end of the year, they’ll be able to make more money in the years to follow. The types of fish that are typically served are Crucian carp, catfish and Chinese mud carp. If you wonder why the Chinese prefer these fishes, the reason why is because these fishes symbolize prosperity!
Spring rolls (春卷, or chūnjuǎn) are traditionally served during the Spring Festival, and are popularly consumed in Chinese regions such as Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. They’re usually found in dim sum restaurants and also during Chinese New Year.
The ingredients for making spring rolls include vegetables, meat, or sweet fillings, that are wrapped in thin, translucent dough wrappers, before they are fried in a wok. Once the spring rolls are fully cooked, their colors eventually turn into golden-yellow. For the Chinese, the color of gold represents wealth.
I remember having sweet rice balls for the Spring Festival in 2015. I used to live with a Chinese, and I was fortunate enough to taste homemade sweet rice balls, also known as 汤圆 or “Tāngyuán.”
Tāngyuán is a special dish that emphasises on the spirit of togetherness, which is why the Chinese don’t just eat them during the Spring Festival, but also during Chinese New Year, which is the biggest event in the Chinese calendar.
Did you know? These sweet rice balls are usually white in color, but they can also be made in different colors. They’re very popular in South China, and are mainly eaten during China’s Lantern Festival.
Popularly served in Chinese weddings, longevity noodles (长寿面, or Chángshòu Miàn) represent longevity. Compared to most noodles, longevity noodles are much longer in length and they should never be cut when served.
Longevity noodles can either be fried or boiled, and served with their broth in a bowl. When it comes to the length of the noodle, the longer, the better!
Symbol: happiness and longevity
How can we forget fruits like tangerines, pomelos, and especially oranges? All of these fruits symbolize fullness and wealth.
Pomelos, in particular, symbolize status and prosperity. Their round shape represents the idea of fullness while their color (which is close to golden) represents wealth.
In Mandarin, orange is called jí (吉), which refers to good luck. The word pomelo, when translated in Mandarin, is yòu (佑), which means blessings; same goes for tangerine. Did you know? The word gold and orange share the same names in the Chinese language.
Mandarin oranges are perfect just the way they are, and it’s even better when they appear with leaves. Leaves represent longevity. Remember: Never group your oranges in four. The reason is “sì” is the Chinese word for the number four, which means “death.”
Symbol: fullness and wealth
Whether these fruits are truly lucky or not, the beliefs behind them all mean well. They promote positive and important values, and have indeed served the Chinese community for centuries.