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A Guide to Chinese New Year Foods

Chinese New Year 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit

As an American, I celebrate Thanksgiving like everyone else. My table is filled with stuffing, green bean casserole and the proverbial roast turkey every Fall.

But as an Asian American, I also get a second Thanksgiving, of sorts.

Chinese New Year is an annual event that falls on a different date each year because of the lunar calendar, but it’s usually in February or March. It’s also a holiday that’s filled with a whole lot of food and family.

But unlike the Thanksgiving tradition of gorging ourselves silly, a Chinese New Year’s Eve feast is filled with food for different reasons.

Because it is sacrilege to cook on Chinese New Year Day (You’re not supposed to touch a knife or an open flame at any point during the day. It’s bad luck!), the abundance of food also has a practical purpose. You’re supposed to eat the leftovers throughout the next day or so. These traditions were made before microwaves, after all.

The feast itself is also filled with symbolism, as is with many Chinese traditions.

A few must haves on the table:

A Whole Fish: It needs to be complete from head to tail to symbolize completion and wholeness. If you serve parts of it, your luck will be “cut off” so to speak.
Tangerines: They look like gold bouillons in theory, so they symbolize wealth and luck in the new year. And leave the stem and leaves on! They’re also good luck.
Noodles: These are served on Chinese New Year AND on your birthday to symbolize a long life. And don’t bite, slurp! (It’s not impolite to do so in the Chinese culture.) You cut off your luck if you bite your noodles!
Pomelo: This golden yellow fruit symbolizes abundance and prosperity.
Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, watermelon, etc.): Fertility and abundance.
Black Moss Seaweed: The stringy look of this dish symbolizes long life and wealth
Bamboo Shoots: Wealth and new beginnings
Chicken: Family and happiness, and of course, must be served whole (just like the fish)
Eggs: Fertility (of course)

This is just a partial list, but everything on the table during the holiday is very intentional.

So go on, this Chinese New Year’s Eve (which also falls on Groundhog Day and my daughter’s birthday) celebrate with a bowl of your favorite noodles, some chicken or fish, and then have a tangerine or two for dessert. Your year should be brimming with good luck.

And here’s a link to some other foods traditionally served on Chinese New Year, along with what they symbolize.

*This article is also cross-posted on BlogHer.


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