Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Fortune Dinner

On New Year's Day, everyone had on new clothes, and would put on his best behavior. It is considered improper to tell a lie, raise one's voice, use indecent language, or break anything on the first day of the year.

At New Year Eve’s dinner, a vast amount of food is usually prepared for family and friends, near and far, as well as those who have died. The New Year's Eve dinner, a get together for celebration, is very large, and is exclusively based on several symbolisms. Food may have special significance because of its shape or because of the way the Chinese word for it sounds.

But let start with the … starters.


  • Pearl balls are frequently served at Chinese New Year celebrations. The round meatball signifies reunion, and this is traditionally a time for families to come together.

  • Egg rolls are a popular Chinese New Year food. They are thought to symbolize wealth, since the roll resembles a 10-ounce gold bar, and usually served with soy sauce or Chinese Hot Mustard for dipping.

  • In northern China, families spend the night before Chinese New Year preparing Jiaozi Dumplings, to enjoy after midnight. Usually served with Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce.

  • Clam Sycee originated in Shanghai, on the coast of eastern China, and is a popular New Year's dish. It symbolizes good fortune and prosperity, as the stuffed clams resemble the gold or silver bouillon originally used as money in China.

  • Spring rolls are made with a thinner wrapper than egg rolls. Choose from Cantonese Spring Rolls, Mini Spring Rolls, Spring Rolls With Barbecued Pork, Vegetable Spring Rolls. Spring Rolls symbolize wealth because their shape is similar to gold bars.

  • The Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like rising fortune, so it is common to serve lettuce wraps filled with other lucky food. To turn this into an even more symbolic dish, substitute dried oysters for the chicken meat (dried oyster sounds like the word for "good"). The Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like rising fortune, so it is very common to serve a lettuce wrap filled with other lucky food.

  • Yu Sheng, a salad of raw fish, is especially popular in Singapore and Malaysia and should be tossed for bringing good fortune to the house.

  • Potstickers, a sort of tasty dumplings, pan-fried on one side and steamed on the other, are perfect for Chinese New Year celebrations. Should be serve with Soy Sauce With Ginger, Hot Chili Oil or Dumpling Dipping Sauce

  • The Thousand Corner Shrimp Balls should include a dipping sauce, and this Shanghai appetizer is very easy to make.

  • The Salt and Pepper Shrimp dish makes an eye-catching appetizer or main course. The deep-fried shrimp shells turn a wonderful orange color, while the spicy seasoning adds extra flavor. The shells protect the shrimp meat during deep-frying, so that it tastes extra tender and juicy.

  • Ginkgo nut represents silver ingots. Visit an Asian bakery during the Chinese New Year, and you're likely to find a wide assortment of snacks with different types of seeds in them. The seed-filled treats represent bearing many children in Chinese culture.

  • The Chinese believe eggs symbolize fertility. After a baby is born, parents may hold a "red egg and ginger party," where they pass out hard boiled eggs to announce the birth. In some regions of China the number of eggs presented depends on the sex of the child: an even number for a girl, and an odd number if a boy has been born.

Main Dishes
  • A Chicken is symbol for prosperity and must be presented with a head, tail and feet to symbolize completeness. In Chinese culture, chicken forms part of the symbolism of the dragon and phoenix. At a Chinese wedding, chicken's feet (sometimes referred to as phoenix feet) are often served with dragon foods such as lobster. Chicken is very popular at Chinese New Year dinner, symbolizing a good marriage and the coming together of families.
  • Kung Pao Chicken, named after a court official, is a spicy Szechuan dish made with diced chicken, peanuts and chili peppers. Stir-fry Kung Pao Chicken - in this healthier version the chicken is stir-fried, reducing the calories.
  • The famous General Tso's Chicken dish, also named after a famous 19th century Chinese military leader, could be translated roughly into "ancestor meeting place chicken."
  • The White Cut Chicken is poached in rice wine until it turns white and garnished with scallions in this simple festive dish. White cut chicken is a popular New Years' dish as the white chicken symbolizes purity.
  • The Sesame Chicken is not an authentic Chinese dish, but one that is very popular during festive occasions. Chicken is deep-fried in batter, then finished in a tangy sweet and sour sauce and garnished with toasted sesame seeds.
  • The Cantonese Roast Duck is a duck with the shiny reddish skin that is frequently seen hanging in the windows of Cantonese restaurants.
  • The also famous Peking Duck dish consists of juicy slices of duck with a crispy skin, served with Mandarin pancakes and hoisin sauce. If you are ever invited to a Chinese wedding banquet, don't be surprised to spot a mouthwatering platter of Peking duck on the banquet table. Ducks represent fidelity in Chinese culture. Also, red dishes are featured at weddings as red is the color of happiness. You'll find them served at New Year's banquets for the same reason.
  • Sweet and Sour Pork is deep-fried in batter twice to make it extra crispy, then stir-fried with pork and pineapple in a sweet and sour sauce
  • The whole steamed Fish, symbol of long life and good fortune, is also included, but not eaten up completely and the remaining stored overnight. The Chinese say "every year there is fish/leftover" is a homophone for phrases which could be translated into "be blessed every year" or "have profit every year". A whole fish is half eaten to represent togetherness and abundance. In fact, at a banquet it is customary to serve the whole fish last, pointed toward the guest of honor. Fish also has symbolic significance because the Chinese word for fish, yu, sounds like the word for riches or abundance, and it is believed that eating fish will help your wishes come true in the year to come. Fish also play a large role in festive celebrations. The word for fish, "Yu," sounds like the words both for wish and abundance. As a result, on New Year's Eve it is customary to serve a fish at the end of the evening meal, symbolizing a wish for abundance in the coming year. For added symbolism, the fish is served whole, with head and tail attached, symbolizing a good beginning and ending for the coming year.
  • A type of black hair-like algae, pronounced "Fat Choy" in Cantonese, is also featured in many dishes since its name sounds similar to "prosperity".
  • Hakka is also served because the things sound alike, the belief is that having one will lead to the other, like the old child's aphorism "step on a crack, break your mother's back".
  • On that particular dinner, a Chinese family eats a vegetarian dish called "Jai". Although the various ingredients in jai are root vegetables or fibrous vegetables, many people attribute various superstitious aspects to them.
  • Noodles should be uncut as they represent long life. An old superstition says that it's bad luck to cut them. Noodles are a symbol of longevity in Chinese culture. They are as much a part of a Chinese birthday celebration as a birthday cake with lit candles is in many countries. Since noodles do symbolize long life, it is considered very unlucky to cut up a strand.
  • Clams are stir-fried in a savory mixture of black beans and ginger. In Chinese culture, clams symbolize prosperity because of their resemblance to Chinese coins.
  • Dried bean curd is another homonym for fulfillment of wealth and happiness.
  • Fresh bean curd or tofu is not included as it is white and unlucky for New Year as the color signifies death and misfortune.
  • Lobster Cantonese tails are cooked in a savory sauce flavored with Chinese black beans.
    Cantonese Shrimp With Lobster Sauce - there's actually no lobster in this dish at all. The dish gets its name from having the same sauce as Lobster Cantonese. Take-out Shrimp With "Lobster Sauce" - this is a take-out version of the popular dish, made with a white sauce.
  • Chinese garlic chives symbolize eternity.
  • Cone-shaped winter bamboo shoots are a symbol of wealth. Bamboo shoots is a term which sounds like “wishing that everything would be well”
  • Black moss seaweed is a homonym for exceeding in wealth.


  • The Sticky Cake (Nian Gao) is China's most famous cake, traditionally fed to the Chinese Kitchen God so he will report favorably on a family's behavior when he returns to heaven before the start of the New Year season. In Chinese culture, cakes symbolize togetherness and a rich life. Although it is literally translated as "Year Cake", nian gao is more like a sweet, stretchy, sticky pudding. It is made with glutinous rice powder, brown sugar and flavored with rose water or red beans. The batter is steamed until it solidifies and served in thick slices. The cake is filled with dried fruit and steamed. The Chinese word "nian" or "to stick" is similar in sound to "year", and the word "gao" or "cake" sounds similar to "high/tall." As such, eating "nian gao" is has the symbolism of raising oneself in each coming year, or "nian nian gao sheng."
  • In the north, steamed-wheat bread (Man Tou) and small meat dumplings were the preferred food. The tremendous amount of food prepared at this time was meant to symbolize abundance and wealth for the household.
  • Fa Gao, literally translated as "Prosperity Cake", is made with wheat flour, water, sugar and leavened with either yeast or baking powder. Fa gao batter is steamed until it rises and splits open at the top. The sound "fa" means either "to raise/generate" or "be prosperous", hence its well intending secondary meaning. Its sweetness symbolizes a rich, sweet life, while the layers symbolize rising abundance for the coming year. Finally, the round shape signifies family reunion.
  • Peking Dust is a fun, if filling, dessert, composed with fresh chestnuts, ground into fine pieces, representing the dust of the Mongolian dessert, and paired with whipped cream.
    The almond cookies have a light, delicate flavor that is not too overpowering, and is a must in the Chinese New Year Eve’s dinner.
  • The Sesame Seed Balls (Zeen Doy) are tasty balls of glutinous rice flour that filled with red bean paste and rolled in sesame seeds and fried. While sesame seed balls are available at Asian bakeries throughout the year, they are especially popular during the Chinese New Year season.
  • The Eight Precious Pudding is a famous banquet dessert, and some sort of a pudding, traditionally made with eight types of dried candied fruits to "treasures" such as happiness and a long life.
  • The Five-spice Peanuts symbolizes longevity in Chinese culture. In this easy recipe the peanuts are coated in a syrupy mixture with brown sugar, corn syrup and five-spice powder.
  • Sago tarts are made with lotus seeds. Lotus seeds are often given to married couples to wish them many children.
  • At any Chinese New Year celebration you'll see red everywhere, as the color red is a powerful symbol of happiness and joy in Chinese culture. Made with red beans, the popular Sweet Red Bean Soup is a sweet dessert soup and is perfect for Chinese New Year. Lotus seeds and dried tangerine peel give the soup an interesting variety of textures and flavor.
  • One of the most unusual Chinese desserts is the Sesame Seed Custard a fried custard made with toasted sesame seeds.
  • Tangerines and oranges are passed out freely during Chinese New Year as the words for tangerine and orange sound like luck and wealth, respectively.
  • As for Pomelos, this large ancestor of the grapefruit signifies abundance, as the Chinese word for pomelo sounds like the word for "to have."
  • Red Jujubes also called "Chinese Dates" are the symbol of prosperity.
  • Although they're actually an American creation, Fortune Cookies are a fun way to end a festive meal.

I wonder why, the next day New Year's Day lunch is typically a light vegetarian lunch.