Given the importance of food in Chinese culture, it is not surprising that certain dishes play a major role in Chinese New Year celebrations. "Lucky" foods are served through the two-week Chinese New Year celebration, also called the Spring festival.
What gives a certain food symbolic significance? Sometimes it is based on appearance. For example, serving a whole chicken during the Chinese New Year season symbolizes family togetherness. And noodles represent a long life (an old superstition says that it's bad luck to cut them).
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These round dumplings signify family reunion. In northern China, families traditionally spend New Year's Eve together preparing the dumplings, which are eaten at midnight. One lucky person may find a gold coin inside! Crescent-shaped Jiaozi is a symbol of wealth and prosperity because of their resemblance to ancient Chinese money (silver ingots).
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Spring rolls, egg rolls, and clams symbolize wealth—clams because of their resemblance to bouillon, and spring rolls and egg rolls because their shape is similar to gold bars.
Clam Sycee (named after sycee, a type of gold or silver currency used in imperial China) is a clam that is steamed, then the meat is chopped and mixed into a stuffing and placed back in the shell. The whole clam is either deep-fried or stir-fried.
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The Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like rising fortune, so it is common to serve lettuce wraps filled with other lucky food. To turn this into an even more symbolic dish, substitute dried oysters for the chicken meat (dried oyster sounds like the word for "good").
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Lion's head meatballs is a visually appealing dish from Shanghai consisting of oversized meatballs with bok choy "manes." The lion represents power and strength in Chinese culture, while the oversized meatballs symbolize family reunion.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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Duck symbolizes fidelity in Chinese culture. Peking duck has a long history and could be found on the Ming Dynasty imperial court menu. By the mid-20th century, it became a national symbol of China. It is known for its thin, crispy skin and tender meat.
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This dish is popular with families hoping for a lot of grandchildren, as the Cantonese word for "sour" sounds like the word for grandchild. This style of cooking with sauces is popular in Cantonese cuisine.
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The word for fish, "yu," sounds like the words both for wish and abundance. As a result, on New Year's Eve, it is customary to serve a fish at the end of the evening meal, symbolizing a wish for abundance in the coming year. For added symbolism, the fish is served whole, with head and tail attached, symbolizing a good beginning and ending for the coming year.
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Also known as Buddha's Delight, this popular New Year's day dish is loaded with symbolism. It is a Buddhist tradition that no animal or fish should be killed on the first day of the lunar year. Vegetables are considered to be purifying, and many of the ingredients in this dish, from lily buds to fungus, have their own special significance.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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Serving a whole chicken symbolizes wholeness and prosperity. White cut chicken is a whole chicken that has been poached in a broth, therefore resulting in a sort of colorless dish, but fortunately also a meat that is flavorful, moist and tender.
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Longevity noodles symbolize a long life, so be sure not to cut them! Longevity noodles are often stir-fried, presenting quite a challenge to the cook. This recipe keeps it simple by serving an egg drop soup over the noodles.
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Cakes have a special place in Chinese New Year celebrations. Their sweetness symbolizes a rich, sweet life, while the layers symbolize rising abundance for the coming year. Finally, the round shape signifies family reunion.
According to custom, sticky cake (Nian Gao), is a steamed fruitcake that is fed to the Chinese Kitchen God so that he will report favorably on a family's behavior when he returns to heaven before the start of the New Year.