The annual two-week festival of Chinese New Year is upon us! As the Year of the Dog (2018 to 2019) gives way to the Year of the Pig (2019 to 2020), it’s time for family and friends to come together in celebration and exchange wishes for luck, health, and prosperity. Read on to learn how you can celebrate the Chinese New Year with some traditional and delicious foods.
However you share or observe Chinese New Year this year, here are six foods essential to the holiday. We break down what they are, why they’re significant, and how they’re made and served.
Oranges (橙, chéng) and Pomelos (柚, yòu)
Citrus fruits are commonly given as gifts during this season, in part because of their appearance or because of their Chinese names.
In Chinese, the word for “pomelo” (柚, yòu) sounds like the word for “to have” (有, yǒu). Tangerines, mandarins, and kumquats are said to evoke gold, so having them can bring wealth and increase prosperity. The word for “orange or tangerine” (橙, chéng) sounds like the Chinese word for “success” (成, chénggōng). An alternate way to write “tangerine” is (桔, jú), which is comprised of the Chinese character for luck (吉, jí).
Dumplings (餃子, Jiaozi)
Chinese dumplings symbolize great wealth. Depending on how they are prepared, dumplings can be made to resemble silver ingots or gold bars.
These dumplings come from China’s colder northern regions, where wheat is commonly used in dumpling wrappers and other foods. Fillings can vary; a popular type combines the following ingredients:
These long noodles, typically called “e-fu” or “yi mein,” are meant to stay exactly that: long. Cutting the noodles into small pieces is frowned upon, as it means the person’s life is to be cut short.
Longevity noodles are often a simpler dish and may be part of an egg drop soup. They may also contain a protein, mushrooms, and/or green vegetable. Some versions are also fried and served on a plate instead of a bowl.
Rice Cake (年糕 =, Nián Gao)
In Chinese legend, rice cakes would be prepared and served to a Chinese god of the kitchen, in the hopes that when the god returned to heaven prior to the new year, the god would speak well of the family.
These sweet cakes also symbolize having a sweet life. Additionally, the round, whole cake evokes the family coming together.
Instead of being baked, rice cakes are traditionally steamed, which keeps them moist and tender. Modern versions can also be baked, and some versions contain Western-style ingredients such as butter and eggs. Traditional versions typically contain only three ingredients: rice flour, sugar, and water; they cook in a bamboo steamer.
The Chinese word for “fish” sounds like the Chinese word for “surplus.” Traditionally, Chinese people believed in having a surplus of money or goods at the end of the year, because having something left over meant they could make more in the year to come.
Crucian carp (鲫鱼, jìyú): The first character sounds similar to the Chinese word for “good luck,” (吉 , jí), so crucian carp is said to bring good luck throughout the year.
Chinese mud carp (鲤鱼 , lǐyú): Evokes the word for “gifts” (礼, lǐ). Eating mud carp means you wish for good fortune.
Catfish (鲶鱼 , niányú): Sounds like (年余 , nián yú), which means “year surplus”. To eat catfish is to express your wish that you will finish the year with a surplus to help you have more success in the year to come.
Eating two fish (one on New Year’s Eve and one on New Year’s Day) can evoke a wish to have an ongoing surplus each year.
The significance doesn’t stop at the variety of fish, either. Typically how the fish is served and presented matters a great deal too.
Show respect to elders or important guests by placing the head toward them.
The person facing the fish’s head must eat before anyone else can have some of the fish.
The fish should stay where it is on the table.
Whoever faces the fish’s head and fish’s tail should drink together for luck.
And as you bite into that New Year fish, give out a hearty “Niánnián yǒu yú,” (年年有余, “nyen-nyen yo yoo”), which means “May you always have more than you need!”
However you say it, have a happy Chinese New Year!
Whether you travel abroad or celebrate the occasion stateside, there are many ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year. You can try to make some of these dishes yourself or you can find them at food carts and restaurants around the country. Here are a few ZeroCater’s restaurants and caterers partners to check out:
No matter where your Chinese New Year adventures take you, as we head into the Year of Pig, “xin nian kuai le” (Mandarin: “shin nee-an kwai le” or the formal “happy new year”), “xin nian hao” (Mandarin: “shin nee-an how” or “good new year”) and in Cantonese, “may you be prosperous in the year ahead,” “gong hei fat choy!”
ZeroCater corporate catering and snacks services provide curated meals and snacks to companies for any office occasion. We partnered with a diverse range of local restaurants, caterers, and food trucks alongside a personalized selection of snacks, beverages, and kitchen supplies, all tailored to your teams’ tastes and dietary preferences. ZeroCater is currently available in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, Washington D.C. and Chicago. More About ZeroCater
You’ve taken your first step toward getting delicious meals for your office. We'll contact you shortly to set-up a free consultation so we can learn more about your office’s tastes and preferences. In the meantime, learn more about the latest food trends on our blog.
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