Kung Hei Fat Choy! Wish you all a prosperous and sated stomach in the Year of Rooster.
In less than two days we Chinese will bade au revoir to the Year of Monkey and greet salut to the Year of Rooster (probably with some firecrackers too): Tuesday is the Eve while Wednesday the first day of the latter(to learn more about the Chinese Horoscope, check here, to get a grasp of the your fortune in the year of Rooster, click here).
When is better then, to have the auspicious food for this very festival -- the Chinese New Year -- explained than now? I guess what is unique in Chinese culinary culture, when compared with others, is that we very often eat food in contextual way. We eat a food very often because of its name, its outlook and its association with good things in life, rather than its taste. Yes, when it comes to food, we are super superstitious!
Some food are eaten for their names while some simply because they "got the look." Lets have the mojo of Chinese food decoded one by one.
Eat it because of phonetic similarity:
The Apple: the first part of it is pronounced as "ping" in Chinese, homophone to the word "safe."
The Banana: the second part of it is pronounced as "jiu," homophone to the word "embrace," hence eating it symbolizes embracing good things in life, especially money.
The Fish: it is pronounced as "yu" in Chinese, homophone to the word "surplus." We eat fish on the first day of Chinese New Year and we never, never finish the fish. We always leave some bits of it on the plate so as to symbolize there's surplus in our house in the coming year.
The Rice Cake: you may also call it rice pudding or Chinese New Year rice cake. It's pronounced as "ling gou," which sounds the same as the word "year's high." Grown-ups eat this with the hope to reaching new height in their career or production while the growing ups eat this to becoming taller in the coming year. The traditional ones are made in round shape like a cake. But pictured here is a special edition, providentially made to form for the New Year: a crossover of two lucky contexts: "gou" and "yu." As far as food goes, it is the luckiest one can get...
The Peanut: called "fa san" in Cantonese or "hua sun" in Mandarin. Either way, the ending half shares the same pronunciation as the word "live." Thus, it is eaten for longevity.
The Lettuce: pronounced as "san choy," homophone to the words "gaining money."
The Black Moss: pronounced as "fat choy," homophone to the words "getting rich."
The Dried Oyster: pronounced as "ho sei," homophone to the word "booming market."
The Pig's Tongue: pronounced as "lee," homophone to the word "profit."
Seeds of Melon: pronounced as "gua tze." "Tze" is homophone to the word "offspring" in Chinese. Couples eat it with the hope to become parents next year.
Eat it for because of the look:
The Dumplings: pronounced as "chiotze" in Mandarin. It's shape resembles that of the gold ingots. The myth has it that the more you eat in CNY, the richer you'll be in the coming year. In Beijing, people there play the trick in a more subtle way. Wok-fuls of dumplings are served as in every festivals. However, in Chinese New Year, some dumplings are placed with sugar in the fillings, some with peanuts and one, only one, with a gold coin. For those who end up with the sugared one in their bowls, it is believed that they will have sweet life ahead; those with peanuts longevity and for the lucky glutton with the gold coin, a profitable year ahead.
The Sesame Cookie: the middle part of the cookie is fried to cracked, akin a face "cracking a laugh." Its name in Chinese literally means "laughing dates." Dates for its size and laughing for its appearance, I guess...
The Sweetened Glutinous Rice Dumpling: the sweeten dumpling is round in shape. In Chinese culture, deeply influenced by the Daoist, round shape has the meaning of perfect, harmony and completeness. We eat it in family reunion and festivals with the hope to have the whole family in perfect harmony in the year ahead.