Thursday, January 31, 2008

Festive dishes for Chinese New Year

Waving bye bye to the Pig and greeting a big hello to the Rat. 7th Feb 2008 marks the first day in the Chinese Lunar Calender - first day of Chinese New Year. Oh well, Mickey Mouse gets extremely popular as a Chinese New Year "mascot" this year (you see a lot of Mickey Mouse red packets/ang pows this year, don't you?) because it is the year of the Rat (Earth Rat, to be more specific) based on the Chinese Animal Zodiac of 12 animals. But one is a mouse and the other is a rat??? I don't know. Similar enough, maybe? Haha... Rat usually starts the cycle, and ends with the Pig. What zodiac animal are you ? :P

Now...FOOoo..ooD- we can't go without that when celebrating Chinese New Year. The official "feasting" typically starts on the last day of the old year (Chinese New Year Eve) and families usually have one or two (sometimes even more) signature dishes (must-have) on the dinner table during the eve of Chinese New Year (a.k.a Reunion Dinner). Festive dishes that symbolize good luck, prosperity, abundance and peace. Fish -typically steamed, is one of them.

The significance of eating fish relates quite traditionally to a Chinese saying 年年有鱼 (pronounced nian nian you yu) symbolizing 年年有余 (also pronounced nian nian you yu) , whereby the last character 鱼 (pronounced yu, literally meaning - fish) and the character 余 sound exactly alike - pronounced as yu but meaning in abundance. Sometimes, families will even have the fish unfinished(that's on purpose, with intent!) on the plate so that it really symbolizes leftovers and in abundance (of all the good things). Confused? Still confused? Just convince yourself that eating fish is considered auspicious in the New Year. Lucky food. Here's wishing you good abundance of good wishes, good luck, good tidings, good health, good everything for the following years :)

In recent years, for the "cooks" at home to go easy, many families gradually turn to
steamboat/hotpot for help. It's easy because you just need to get ready the ingredients and everyone in the family will gather round the table and enjoy dinner as one big complete family - meaning togetherness and unity.

Families also have reunion dinner dine-outs more often than before. Well, they just want to spare an exhausting day for the "cooks" at home. Hmmm...somebody's got to do all the cooking at home and if it's cooking for the Chinese New Year, it's just gonna be TIRING. And this is the time, when you head over to restaurants, you see restaurants run mad shifts like the factory floor. Sometimes 5-7pm (one round), 7-9pm(another round)...is there something from 9-11pm (that makes it three rounds) ? I don't know but I believe there is. Restaurants even run noon shifts to cater for lunch crowd and lunch reunion. Any breakfast reunions ? :P Also is the time to see restaurants get creative and festive in their Chinese New Year dishes. For example, you will see and read Chinese names in dishes such as:

八宝盒 -Eight Treasures - usually assortment of seafood and vegetables in a beancurd
风舞九天,大展鸿图 -Phoenix Dance - usually braised sharks fin with crab roe
金玉满堂 -Gold Everywhere - usually some egg-fried rice dish with shrimp, and crabmeat
年年高升 -typically a festive goodie nian gao 年糕 , meaning "Promotion every year"
富贵有余 -a fish dish; 鱼 and 余 both pronounced yu ; with the latter meaning "abundance/ excess"
一 路发财 - a dish that often contains black moss vegetable/发菜; 菜 and 财 pronounced cai and latter means "money or rich"

Even with a dish like this - Stir fry asparagus with scallops and ginkgo - can only be made good if you name it 代代平安 -Peace and Harmony for Generations as scallops -带子 --> 代 and 带 are pronounced the same, as dai.

There are also plenty of Chinese New Year snacks and goodies cookies that you can enjoy. My favorite is Bak Kwa -Dried Meat.


There is also another CNY goodie (cake) - Kuih lapis (layer cake) that is popular. This is a rich kuih consisting of thin alternating layers made of butter, eggs and sugar, piled on top of each other. Each layer is laid down and baked separately, making the creation of a kueh lapis an extremely laborious and time-consuming process.


There are so many Chinese New Year traditions - some which are decades generations long (passed down from ancestors) and some that evolved purely due to convenience and modern age.

Share some of your must-do Chinese New Year practices or must-eat Chinese New Year food, with me. :D

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