10 Chinese New Year Food Symbolism You Should Know
CNY is coming and you're having CNY dinner with your colleagues and friends. Then, one of your friend who isn't Chinese ask why do Chinese people eat XXX during CNY dinner and you can't answer. Well, that's what a lot of us encounter. Therefore, we've done some research and list down 10 common CNY dish/food and their symbolism. Also note that because there are Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka and other Chinese people among us, hence the type of food/dishes consumed may differ.
Fish is a must on the table of every chinese family during CNY. Usually a whole fish is served. Fish symbolises abundance or surplus for the year because “fish” and “surplus” are both pronounced yu, and the unfinished fish is thus a good portent referring to the expression "nian nian you yu" or surplus for every year. 年年有余
2. Black Moss Seaweed (looks like hair)
Usually served with other ingredients, this sea weed that looks like hair is pronounce as "far chai" （发菜), in Mandarin. It has the same pronunciation as good fortune (发财). Hence, chinese people eat this dish during CNY in the hope of good fortune for the year. 发财
3. Whole Chicken
Whole chicken symbolises prosperity, togetherness of the family and joy. (note: chicken with its head, tail and feet symbolizes completeness) Whole Chicken is pronounced as "chuen ji" (全鸡) in Mandarin. 全家团圆
4. Nian Gao Sticky Rice Cake
Nian gao, Sticky Rice cake, Chinese new year's cake. There' a chinese saying of 吃甜甜，好过年，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." 年年高升
5. Sea Cucumber
The sea cucumber also carries auspicious meaning, for it is pronounced "hi shen" 海参, the “shen” sounding like "sheng" or “give birth,” meaning the family is bound to have a new-born just around the bend.
6. Bamboo Shoot
Bamboo Shoot is pronounced as "zhu soon" 竹笋, symbolising wellness and wealth. 竹报平安 - meaning all is well.
The Hokkien Chinese eat noodle during Chinese New Year. The same principle of eating noodle during birthday applies here as well because noodle symbolises longevity. Note that the noodle is uncut.
8. Mandarin Orange
Mandarin oranges is pronounced as "Gum" 柑 in Cantonese and has a similar pronunciation as gold in Cantonese. Hence, mandarin orange is eaten to promote wealth and prosperity.
Abalone was and still is something that a lot of us would only eat during CNY because it is very expensive. 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”.
10. Glutinous Rice Dumplings (Tang Yuan)
Glutinous Rice Dumpling also called "Tang Yuan" 汤圆 . Tang in Mandarin means soup and Yuan means round. Tang Yuan is eaten because it represents togetherness of the family, particularly during the making process when the whole family will help out. Tang Yuan also symbolises completeness. 事事圆满 - meaning all is complete.
Finally, you have something to impress your other friends (Chinese included) during this CNY. Have a wonderful Chinese New Year! Gong Xi Fa Cai! Huat Ah!
Also read: 6 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT YU SHENG
Cover photo by tchajwan.wordpress.com