Those that have been lucky enough to be in China or a Chinese area in a big metropolis outside of the country for their New Year will have seen first hand what a spectacle their New Year celebrations can be. The fireworks, paper dragons and money-filled red envelopes are bright reminders of their generosity and immense fun. And the variety of incredible foods that go along with the celebration is mind-blowing.
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In 2016, the year of the monkey, New Year will be on February 8th, so let’s look at some of the cuisine and customs that make Chinese New Year a celebration like no other.
The traditional approach
Chinese culture is steeped in tradition, and New Year is no different. Markets brightly decorated with lanterns will sell clothing, decorations, food and fireworks. Meanwhile, houses will be given a complete clean in a gesture that takes away the old and ushers in the new. Bright red paper “Fu” will be hung on doors, furniture and in windows to express good wishes and a happy future for all.
While the New Year festivities last for several weeks, the party for most begins on New Year’s Eve. This meal is very family-orientated and each area of China will have their own take on the dishes that will be served. Many of the foods have some form of symbolism attached, which can be seen nowhere more clearly than the tray of togetherness. This is brought out for visitors to snack on, or given as a gift. With eight compartments (eight being a very lucky number in China) it is filled with items such as coconut for togetherness, red melon seeds for happiness and preserved kumquats for prosperity.
The food plays a big role in the fun
The main meal will almost certainly have long noodles. They are kept as long as possible to represent the hope for a long life. Dumplings are normally served, with the traditional jiaozi dumplings having their name temporarily changed to yuanbao, a name for the old Chinese currency of silver ingots. These meat and cabbage dumplings are said to bring prosperity and are sometimes hand shaped into small ingot shapes, mimicking times of old.
Bringing prosperity: Jiaozi, or yuanbao, are traditionally served at CNY feasts.
The Chinese also like to eat food with positive connections. Some foods are chosen because they have auspicious homophonics. Some examples of this are the crucian carp, the first character of which sounds like the Chinese word for “good luck”. Likewise the Chinese for “catfish” sounds like the word for “year surplus”. They will also often not eat the head and tail of the fish to symbolically show that they hope the year will start and finish with a surplus.
This incredible colourful cultural celebration is a feast for all the senses, not least the tongue. Even if you are not Chinese it’s a brilliant time to get the family together and express your hope for a long happy life for all those you love. The menu can be a challenge, so you might want to look out for the Cafe Asia range of lovingly produced authentic Chinese foods, in over 500 Iceland stores across the UK.
Featured image: User Angela N – Flickr creative commons commercial licence allowed
Jiaozi: By Nature42 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons