Chinese New Year or shall we say, Chinese Niu Year is finally here, and the celebrations are in full swing.
In addition to the usual time-honoured traditions that surround this holiday (like giving out ang baos!), certain foods and treats associated with luck should also be on hand for family, friends and other guests to munch on when they visit.
Read on to find out what good luck food items should be on the dining table:
You can’t start the year without gobbling down some oranges. These auspicious fruits are said to bring wealth and good luck. That’s because the Chinese word for orange and gold sound similar, while the word for tangerine also sounds like the Chinese word for luck.
Made of glutinous rice flour, the sweet dessert is supposed to help the person that eats it climb the social ladder as the Chinese word nian gao is a homonym for “higher year.” In other words, the cakes symbolise achieving new heights in the coming year.
If you are serving noodles, make sure they are as long as possible. The longer the noodle, the longer the lifespan of whoever consumes them, or so the belief goes. Be careful not to cut or break the noodles you are using when preparing them for Chinese New Year.
We all know that vegetables are great for our state of health but did you know that they can bring you prosperity too? If you are planning to cook some leafy vegetables to increase your luck, remember that all veggies should be served in whole to symbolise a long life for your parents.
Fish is an auspicious Chinese New Year symbol, associated with wishing for abundance or wealth. How you prepare you fish doesn’t matter – you can steam it, fry it or bake it – but make sure the head and fin are still intact when served as this represents a good beginning and a good end for the coming year.
If you love dumplings then here’s your chance to indulge. Based on Chinese tradition, the more dumplings you eat during the New Year, the more money you’ll have in the upcoming year. This is because the shape of dumplings is said to resemble old ingot-shaped coins or yuan bao.
Serving any kind of sweet dessert is encouraged during Chinese New Year because it symbolises bringing a sweet life into the new year. But pineapple tarts are particularly ideal because its Hokkien pronunciation Ong Lai actually means prosperity is arriving.
Bak Kwa, that sweet barbequed jerky made of the stuff of dreams, is particularly popular during Chinese New Year. Why? Because it’s deep red colour is considered auspicious in Chinese tradition and symbolises luck, wealth and prosperity. Plus, it just tastes so darn yummy!
This large citrus fruit is popular because it is thought to bring “continuous prosperity and status”. The tradition comes from the way the Cantonese phrase for pomelo sounds similar to the words for “to have”. It is also symbolic of good health, fertility, and family unity.
Put out for visiting relatives to snack on, or given as a gift, this tray is filled with things such as preserved kumquats for prosperity, coconut for togetherness, longans to bring many sons, and red melon seeds for happiness. The tray should have eight compartments, the number for good luck.
Spring rolls symbolise wealth and get their name because they are traditionally eaten during the Spring Festival (also known as the Lunar New Year). When you eat these fried delicacies, you’re supposed to utter the lucky saying 黄金万两 which translates to “thousands of golds” – a wish for prosperity.
These chewy glutinous rice balls in a sweet syrupy soup is associated with family togetherness. Its round shape and pronunciation also symbolises union so it is often eaten throughout the Lunar New Year when families get together for meals but especially on the 15th day of CNY (also known as Dongzhi or the beginning of the Winter Solstice).
These rice flour cakes are called fa gao. “Fa” means both prosperity and leavened or raised, which is why these fluffy cakes are known as prosperity cakes. When baked, they split on top and “blossom”. The more petals have blossomed, the more prosperous you will be.
Oysters are not only popular aphrodisiacs but are also considered lucky in Chinese culture. Dried oysters, in particular, are said to direct prosperity toward good business. During Chinese New Year, these are usually served with tofu skin and vegetables such as mushrooms.
These fried treats are usually filled with some sort of paste (either lotus or red bean) and then covered in sesame seeds. As the balls of dough fry, they expand, so it is believed that if you eat these your fortunes will expand similarly.
A dish made with finely julienned vegetables topped with slices of raw salmon, Yu Sheng has been part of our CNY tradition for a long time. Each ingredient has a special meaning attached to it and you’re supposed to toss (or lo hei) the dish with your friends and family while saying auspicious phrases. It’s said that the higher you toss the salad, the greater your fortunes will be.
During Chinese New Year, the bird should be served whole – with head and feet attached – to symbolise togetherness, rebirth, unity and good marriage between families. The most popular way of serving chicken during CNY would be to boil it in soup or steam it to lock in its symbolic significance.
According to Chinese symbolism, peaches are a sign of immortality. Peach trees are a symbols of longevity while the fruit themselves are a reference to youthful vitality. You can gift a basket of peaches when visiting friends or relatives to wish them a long and healthy life.
This article was first published in Singapore Women’s Weekly.