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A Chinese New Year Menu

February 11, 2010

While most of us are thinking about chocolate and oysters on February 14th, this year an entirely different holiday also falls on that date: Chinese New Year. Sometimes called the “Lunar New Year,” this is perhaps the most important of all the Chinese holidays. Food is an key part of the entire 15-day holiday, and on the Eve of Chinese New Year an elaborate dinner is served in many Chinese homes, the table filled to the edges with many symbolic foods. Legend says that a mythical beast called the Nien would arrive in villages and eat everything in its path; to protect themselves, the residents would prepare food and leave it for the Nien, who would be sated by the food and leave the villagers and their livestock alone.

Whole Chinese-Style Steamed Bass

Fish is a big part of the Chinese feasts, representing the hope for bounty (“yu,” the Chinese word for fish, also sounds like “abundance”), as are dumplings in the North of China, and special sticky rice flour cakes in the South, both symbolizing wealth. Every food served during the celebration has meaning; some foods are eaten because their names are homophones for words that mean good things, like Buddha’s Delight, which contains a seaweed whose name sounds like “prosperity” (it is also vegetarian, and thus served as a cleansing food for the body), and Mandarin oranges, whose name sounds like “luck” or “fortune.” Long noodles represent longevity; some foods symbolize wealth, such as clams, because they are thought to look like gold bouillon, and spring rolls, which are believed to resemble bars of gold; and on it goes.

Some meals are completely steeped in tradition; others have representative foods, but take a more liberal approach to the authenticity of the dishes. Here at Cookstr we’re plotting a menu that bows to tradition, but also makes the most out of what our creative contributors have some up with to pay homage to the holiday.

Pot Sticker Dumplings with Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce by Nancie McDermott

Dumplings represent lots of good things: family togetherness, luck, and good fortune. The sesame, soy and gingery filling just makes them addictive.

Chinese Braised Mixed Mushroom Noodles

Chinese Braised Mixed Mushroom Noodles by Andrew Chase

This vegetarian dish has noodles for longevity, mixed vegetables representing family harmony, and bamboo shoots, whose Chinese name sounds like the phrase for “wishing that everything would be well.”

Five Spice Hoisin Tofu by Nina Simonds

Tofu symbolizes wealth and happiness, and this extremely easy recipe will certainly make the vegetarians at the table very happy.

Chicken in Lettuce Leaves by James Beard

During the Lunar New year, foods are often wrapped in lettuce, which symbolizes a rise in fortune.

Chinese-Style Steamed Bass by Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner

The pronunciation of fish in Chinese—yú—is a homophone for “surpluses,” and so fish is traditionally eaten on Chinese New Year to symbolize the excess that people hope will come to them in the New Year. But the fish must be whole—eyes, fins, and all—to attract completeness and good fortune in the coming year – the head and the tail represent “happy endings and beginnings.”  (Also, using knives or other sharp objects to cut the fish is considered unlucky, as the cutting of meats and vegetables is tantamount to severing one’s good fortune.) Make sure not to eat the entire fish, though; Chinese families will always leave some of the fish on the plate as insurance for the “surpluses” they hope to receive.

Spicy Braised Chicken with Ginger by Sam Choy

Like fish, chicken is served whole on Chinese New Year to symbolize the togetherness of the family.  In this braised version ginger, Szechuan peppercorns and potent star anise provide lots of flavor.

Oranges with Orange Blossom Sabayon by Pichet Ong

Oranges are another Chinese New Year symbol derived from a homophone: The words for “orange” and “gold” sound nearly identical, and so oranges are eaten to promote wealth in the New Year. This dessert offers a double serving of oranges.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 29, 2011 7:00 pm

    Thanks for this….we’re celebrating Chinese New Year here in Mexico City, as best we can!

  2. August 8, 2011 4:53 pm

    A regulation organization actually corporation entity formed by 1 or extra lawyers to interact inside of comply with of legislation

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