The Lunar New Year is defined by gatherings and feasts. Family and friends enjoy sumptuous treats and cuisines sometimes only consumed during the New Year festivities. And the dishes don’t just taste great, they are chosen carefully and meant to symbolize good luck, harmony, and fortune in the up-coming year. Below is a sample of a pan-Asian Lunar New Year dinner, gaining inspiration from Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese festive dishes.
- Knives are avoided during the festival, in order to prevent cutting off one’s life and fortunes, or that of their loved ones. Due to this, a whole roasted duck or pig is cooked versus cutting and cooking it in pieces.
- Dumplings (jiao zi), look like the golden ingots used during the Ming Dynasty for money. The name sounded like the word for the earliest paper money, so serving them brings the promise of wealth and prosperity to many Chinese.
- Chinese Malaysians enjoy yu sheng, a communal salad of raw fish, crunchy noodles and pomelo. The higher you toss the salad, the more money you’re predicted to make the next year, believers say.
- Long noodles are often served during feasts and represent “longevity” in the new year. Strands are not cut and are served in a variety of dishes.
- The word “tangerine” sounds similar to “luck” in Chinese, and the word for orange sounds similar to “wealth”. Because of this phonetic similarity, the fruits have become symbols of good luck and fortune for the coming year.
- Many families keep a tray full of dried fruits, sweets, and candies to welcome guests and relatives who drop by. This tray is called a chuen-hop, or “tray of togetherness”. This Chinese New Year symbol was traditionally made up of eight compartments, a lucky number to some Asian cultures.
- Koreans celebrate the Lunar New Year or “Solnal” by preparing “tteokguk” (white rice-cake soup), “bindaetteok” (mung-bean cake), “sikye” (sweet rice beverage) and “sujeonggwa” (sweet ginger drink. Koreans say the foods that represent good luck are the ones that “stick”. It is also a Chinese custom to serve gummy “neen gow” cakes to keep the family together. And in the Philippines, sticky “tikoy” is thought to seal the kitchen gods’ mouths, so they can’t report the family’s misdeeds to higher deities.
- Vietnamese will serve “banh chung” or dried mung bean with sticky rice and roasted pork, wrapped in banana leaves and tied tightly wth string. When opened, the green tinge of color from the leaves on the sticky rice represents the earth. Legend has it that a prince offered this treat to his father, the king, and earned his right to the throne.
- Don’t forget to decorate your table or home with plum blossoms! This Chinese New Year symbol stands for courage and hope. The blossoms burst forth at the end of winter on a seemingly lifeless branch. In Chinese art, plum blossoms are associated with the entire season of winter.