Chinese New Year is upon us. A time for reunions and meeting the extended families. A time for those who are eligible to receive Ang Pow to start their yearly collection. It is also a time to feast like every other ethnic celebration in Singapore like Hari Raya and Deepavali.
Let’s take a look at 8 auspicious dishes and their symbolism.
PINEAPPLE TARTS: EMBODYING PROSPERITY AND GOOD FORTUNE
The quintessential favourite during Chinese New Year. A must-have for many. “Ong Lai” it is called in Hokkien which directly translated means prosperity comes. As with everything in celebrating Chinese New Year is about ushering the new year with luck and prosperity, do not feel guilty consuming these “Ong Lai”! You do want prosperity, don’t you?
We exchange oranges when we visit our friends and families. We consume and display them. Why? Because it is believed to bring good luck and fortune due to its pronunciation. The Chinese for orange (and tangerine) is 橙 (chéng /chnng/), which sounds the same as the Chinese for ‘success’ (成). One of the ways of writing tangerine (桔 jú /jyoo/) contains the Chinese characters for luck (吉 jí /jee/).
A whole fish is intended to welcome prosperity for the entire year. In Mandarin, the word “surplus” (余, yú) is a homophone of “fish” (鱼, yú). There is also an idiom 年年有余 (níanníanyoǔyú), which means “to have a surplus every year,” which gave rise to its homophonic pun, 年年有鱼, or “to have fish every year.” Fish, as an auspicious Chinese New Year Symbol, is a must on the table of every Chinese family during CNY.
Yes, it looks like hair. Yes, it does not particularly have a distinct taste. But this seaweed is pronounced as 发菜 (fa chai). It has the same pronunciation as good fortune (發財). You do not want to pass up the chance of good fortune for the year, do you?
Whole chicken should be served to represent family togetherness and the joy & prosperity that comes along with it. Whole Chicken is pronounced as “chuen ji” (全鸡) in Mandarin. Like fish, it is better-served whole.
Abalone is a delicacy many would enjoy only during Chinese New Year. It is so mainly due to its hefty price tag. Abalone is pronounced as “Bao Yu” (鲍鱼) in Cantonese and Mandarin. “Bao” 包 means assurance and “yu” 余 surplus so “bao yu” in a slightly different tone in Cantonese also means “assurance of surplus”. It is usually found as an ingredient in a braised dish, Pen Cai. Bountiful Treasure Pen Cai, is a popular dish due to its luxe ingredients. Layered in a ceramic pot, it boasts ingredients like roasted chicken, prawns, scallops, sea cucumber, pacific clams, dried oysters, mushrooms and abalone.
A dish that is deeply rooted in Southern part of China, its origin claimed by both Singapore & Malaysia, Yu Sheng is usually an appetizer due to its symbolism of “good luck” for the new year. Yusheng plays on the homonyms where “yu” 魚 means “fish” but enunciated appropriately, it also means 馀 “abundance”; and “sheng” 生 means literally “raw” but enunciated appropriately, it means “life”. Thus Yusheng implies “abundance of wealth and long life”.
A dish with finely julienned vegetables topped with sliced raw/smoked salmon. Each ingredient has a special meaning (which we will delve into in another blog post) and auspicious phrases are to accompany each toss of the dish. The higher you toss, the greater your fortunes. Vegetarian options are available where the fish is replaced with mock seafood such as mock abalone.
This glutinous rice-cake can be found all year round, but it is consumed traditionally during Chinese New year for good luck. There is a Chinese saying of 吃甜甜，过好年，meaning eating sweet for a good new year. It is considered good luck to eat Nian Gao because it has the symbolism of increasing prosperity every year. The New Year greeting ‘Nian Nian Gao Sheng’ (年年高升 niánnián gāoshēng) is to wish people “advance toward higher positions and prosperity step by step.”
In the catering business for more than 25 years, Four Seasons Catering’s Chinese New Year menus have been a favourite for both household and corporate clients. CNY 2020 is no exception, incorporating traditional must haves with new favourites.