For Chinese people, Spring Festival is the most important traditional festival. Since the eighth day of the 12th lunar month, housewives would be busy shopping for the Chinese New Year and purchase enough chicken, duck, fish, tea, wine, oil, sauce, roasted seeds and nuts, candies and fruits. In China, people think the food is the paramount necessity of the people. Then, what are the Chinese New Year foods? And what are their symbolic meanings?
The foods and dishes during the Spring Festival vary from place to place in south and north, and each has its own characteristics. The most common Chinese New Year foods include dumpling, rice glue ball, rice cake, wonton, longevity noodle, fish, hotpot etc. and each has special meanings.
Jiao Zi (Dumpling)
When to eat dumplings?
Dumpling is a kind of indispensable delicacy during the Chinese New Year. In North China, dumplings are a must for family reunion dinner but the custom varies from place to place. In some areas, dumplings are eaten on the Chinese New Year's Day while in some mountainous areas of North China, people take dumplings as breakfast from the 1st to the 5th day of the first lunar month.
What is dumplings made of and how to eat it?
To make dumplings, people need to knead dough first, make dumpling wrapper with it and then fill the wrapper with all sorts of stuffing, including meat, egg, seafood and vegetable. The traditional way to eat dumplings is boiling with clear water, taking out and eating with the mixing of vinegar, garlic, sesame oil and soy sauce. Some people would fry, steam or bake the dumplings.
What do dumplings signify?
Since ''knead'' and ''harmony'' are homophonous while ''dumpling'' and ''gathering'' are homophonous, dumpling is regarded as a symbol of family reunion and harmony. In Chinese language, the transfer from an old year to a New Year is also called ''Jiao Zi'' and it is the beginning of Chinese New Year. As a result, the custom of eating dumplings implies good luck and happiness. Besides, the shape of dumpling is similar to the gold ingot, so it also has the auspicious meaning of wealth and fortune.
There are many interesting ways to eat dumplings. Dumplings wrapped with some sugar imply the sweet life in the coming year; those with peanut imply the long life while the dumplings with jujube or chestnut have the symbolic meaning of baby birth. Some families would warp a coin into one of the dumplings and the family member who eats the dumpling is considered lucky. The dumplings cooked with noodles are called ''gold ingots connected with gold wires''.
Fish is an indispensable dish during the Chinese New Year. ''Fish'' and ''surplus'' sound the same in Chinese and it is also a symbol of warding off evil spirits. In South China, a whole fish must be offered at the Reunion Dinner yet it cannot be eaten up, for the meaning of surplus year after year. In some regions, the fish head and tail cannot be eaten, for the meaning of ''carrying things through to the end'' in the New Year.
Carp: good luck
It is derived from the folktale ''the carp leaping over the dragon gate'' and eating carp can add the joyous atmosphere. ''Carp'' sounds similar with ''gift'' in Chinese and people usually eat carp during the Spring Festival for the wish of good luck.
Crucian: good luck
''Crucian'' sounds the same with ''auspicious'' in Chinese. Chinese believe that eating crucian can bring them good luck.
Silver Carp: surplus year after year
The word ''Silver Carp'' and ''successive'' have the same pronunciation in Chinese. The custom of eating silver carp during the Chinese New Year is for the meaning of surplus year after year.
Tang Yuan (Glutinous Rice Balls)
Known as ''Tang Yuan'' in South China and ''Yuan Xiao'' in north, Glutinous Rice Balls is usually filled with white sugar, peanut, sesame, bean paste, walnut, nutlet and jujube paste and wrapped by glutinous rice flour. Generally, the Glutinous Rice Balls is boiled to eat and it can be either sweet or salty, either stuffed or not stuffed. In places like Jiangsu and Shanghai, people would eat Glutinous Rice Balls for the breakfast of Chinese New Year's Day. With varied flavors, the rice glue ball can be boiled, fried or steamed, and has the symbolic meaning of reunion and happiness. Generally speaking, South China celebrates the Lantern Festival with '' Tang Yuan '' while the North with '' Yuan Xiao ''.
Nian Gao (Glutinous Rice Cake)
As another Chinese New Year food popular in many places, Nian Gao is made of glutinous rice and other ingredients and it is also known as ''Year High Cake'', having the symbolic meaning of ''life and work getting higher or better year after year''. The glutinous rice cake can be either yellow or white, which symbolizes gold or silver and implies making a fortune in the New Year.
Spring Rolls a thin stuffed sheet of dough, baked or fried. Thin and crisp, the Spring Rolls is quite delicious and it is essential to Spring Festival in South China. In addition to welcoming the spring, Spring Rolls also shows people's praying for harvest, as it is stuffed with all kinds of fresh vegetables. In some places, people believe those who eat the spring pancake rolled with celery or Chinese chives will be more diligent, long-lived and prosperous, because ''diligence'' sounds the same to ''celery'' while ''chive'' has the same pronunciation with ''longevity'' in Chinese.
Eight Delicacies Rice
In many places, Eight Delicacies Rice or Eight-Treasure Rice is must-have during the Chinese New Year. It is quite complicated to cook Eight Delicacies Rice which requires eight exquisite materials, mainly glutinous rice and dried fruits including red jujubes, lotus seeds, dried longans etc. Taking red bean paste as the stuffing, the steamed Eight Delicacies Rice is tasty and boasts agreeable sweetness. Basically, the rice is round and enough for the whole family to enjoy, for the meaning of reunion. Also, Eight Delicacies Rice has the symbolic meaning of peace, good luck and wealth.
Also known as birthday noodles or long-life noodles, it has the symbolic meaning of living to 100 years.
People in some areas of China like those in southern Fujian Province have the tradition of eating noodles during the Spring Festival, for the meaning of ''long life and success year after year''.
Wonton is a kind of traditional food made of flour that originated in northern China. With thin wrapper and meat stuffing (generally pork and leek or mutton and cabbage), wonton is cooked thoroughly and eaten with soup. In similar form with gold ingot, wonton is also named ''ingot soup'' and has the symbolic meaning of amassing fortunes and profits pouring in from all sides. On the second day of the first lunar year, people in north China usually worship the God of Wealth and take wonton as lunch.
In South China, Hot Pot is a popular dish at the New Year's Eve dinner, as it can create a warm and prosperous atmosphere. Hot Pot is a savior for the cold winter - especially on the New Year's Eve, because the hot dishes will cool off soon. It is warm to eat Hot Pot during the Chinese New Year, which has the auspicious meaning of reunion. When the family enjoys Hot Pot together, everyone would be happy and warm. As the first choice of family reunion dinner, Hot Pot can accompany the whole family to watch the Spring Festival gala in a glow of enthusiasm.