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Gung Hey Fat Choy-2008 Year of the Rat (Foods for Good Luck) Part 3

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On February 7, 2008, the Year of the Rat begins — a year numbered 4706 on the Chinese lunar calendar. The holiday ushers in a 10-day period when families and friends exchange token gifts, give children red envelopes with "pocket money", and reunite over extravagant feasts.

Chinese New Years is celebrated in areas with large populations of ethnic Chinese all over the world. There are large Chinese populations in Korea,  Nepal, Bhutan, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Peru, Brazil, Australia, London, San Francisco in California and Chinese New Year is celebrated, by the overseas Chinese. 

Prior to New Year's Day, Chinese families decorate their living rooms with vases of pretty blossoms, platters of oranges and tangerines and a candy tray with eight varieties of dried sweet fruit.

On walls and doors are poetic couplets, happy wishes written on red paper. These messages sound better than the typical fortune cookie messages. For instance, "May you enjoy continuous good health" and "May the Star of Happiness, the Star of Wealth and the Star of Longevity shine on you" are especially positive couplets.

Oranges and Tangerines

Etiquette dictates that you must bring a bag of oranges and tangerines and enclose a lai see when visiting family or friends anytime during the two-week long Chinese New Year celebration.

Tangerines with leaves intact assure that one's relationship with the other remains secure. For newlyweds, this represents the branching of the couple into a family with many children. Oranges and tangerines are symbols for abundant happiness.

Candy Tray

The candy tray arranged in either a circle or octagon is called "The Tray of Togetherness" and has a dazzling array of candy to start the New Year sweetly. After taking several pieces of candy from the tray, adults places a red envelope (lai see) on the center compartment of the tray. Each item represents some kind of good fortune.

* Candied melon - growth and good health

* Red melon seed - dyed red to symbolize joy,happiness, truth and sincerity

* Lychee nut - strong family relationships

* Kumquat - prosperity (gold)

* Coconut - togetherness

* Peanuts - long life

* Longnan - many good sons

* Lotus seed - many children

melon seeds, lotus seeds, peanuts, many good luck new years treats

pickled and candied fruits

People wear red for Good Luck on New Years.

A feast of colourful Good Luck Foods

Given the importance of food in Chinese culture, it is not surprising that food plays 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.

Tradition dictates that an even number of courses — often 8, 10 or 12 — be served at the meal, because multiples of two represent double happiness and fortune. Nearly every dish on the table, and nearly every ingredient in each dish, is loaded with meaning.

It is custom for all to stir the first dish ingredients together.

Combination Cold Appetizer Platter of jelly fish, jellied meats, baby octipus, etc.

Lobster with ginger and scallions

Seafood in Fried Taro Basket

Prawn, brocolli, and candied walnuts

Symbolic Chinese Foods

Pictured: Stir-fried nian gao. This is the the quintessential Chinese New Year's dish. There are many forms of "gao," which is a gelatinous cake made from pounded glutinous rice. This version is usually rolled into logs and then sliced on a bias. Most commonly, it's stir-fried with savories and meats (here, I believe pork, Napa cabbage and ginger). A bit of water is added to aid in making a starchy sauce that naturally comes from the gao during cooking. The Chinese also have sweet versions/preparations for gao. It's called "nian (year) gao" during the New Year celebration. 

photo by Daniel M. Shih of Taiwan

This home-made thin noodle place belongs to two Lin families since 30 more years ago.  it's an old traditional business and still survive in a small town named Lukang.

Hand-pulled noodles, called ''la mian" in Chinese, originated in Lanzhou, a city in northwest China. The technique of hand-pulling soon spread to other parts of China. There are other ways to prepare fresh noodles, including slicing sheets of dough, but hand-pulling is an advanced technique that requires years of intensive training.


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. Noodles represent a long life; an old superstition says that it's bad luck to cut them. Both clams and Spring Rolls symbolize wealth; clams because of their resemblance to bouillon, and Spring Rolls because their shape is similar to gold bars.

While each family has its own food traditions for the new year, most feasts include a whole fish. Because the sound "yue," or fish, is represented by the written character meaning "more than enough," the fish symbolizes togetherness and abundance. The fish is never fully eaten, signifying that the family will always have more than enough. To guarantee continuous good fortune, it’s important not to break the fish during or after cooking.

On the other hand, a food may have special significance during Chinese New Year because of the way the Chinese word for it sounds. For example, the Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like rising fortune, so it is very common to serve a lettuce wrap filled with other lucky food. Tangerines and oranges are passed out freely during Chinese New Year as the words for tangerine and orange sound like luck and wealth, respectively. And let's not forget pomelos. This large ancestor of the grapefruit signifies abundance, as the Chinese word for pomelo sounds like the word for "to have."

Fish also play a large role in festive celebrations. 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.

Fish shaped dishes are very popular like this New Years cake made of rice flour, brown sugar, and water, with orange food colouring to make the Koi look real.

 Yu Sheng is unique to Singapore and Malaysia for New Years. It is made of paperthin raw fish and abalone, finely grated vegetables, candied melon and lime, red and white pickled ginger, pomelo sacs, sesame seeds, jellyfish and peanuts all tossed in sweet plum sauce dressing.  Every ingredient will be placed neatly around the hugh dish after all the guests are around the table.

 Then everyone picks up a chopstick and mixes the Yu Sheng together with a vertical arm motion. During the mixing (lo) each individual says something auspicious. It symbolises bringing of good luck and wishes in the new upcoming year. 

Besides being full of flavors and textures, yu sheng is loaded with symbolic meaning. The raw ingredients signify the renewal of life, and the sound of the word for fish in Cantonese sounds like the word for prosperity.

Yu Sheng


This is the first course of a multi course meal celebrating Chinese New Year. It is duck skin on top, then jellyfish below, then duck meat below that.

Many dishes for the new year include whole or unbroken ingredients. Chickens are presented with head and feet, and leafy greens, noodles and other ingredients are not chopped. In fact, using knives, cleavers or any sharp object during the holiday season is considered unlucky because it may cut off or divide good luck.

ingredients for hot pot

This type of chimney hot pot or steamboat usually has a charcoal fire in the bottom.  We love making hot pot and everyone cooks their own meal.  There are various sauces so you can get the taste you like.  You usually cook the meats and fish first, then veggies, and finally noodles for a wonderful soup to finish.

On the last night of the New Year festivities, many families serve Fire Pot, a fondue-style meal where participants dip assorted meats, seafood, mushrooms, and noodles in a rich broth bubbling in a large pot on the table. Each simmering ingredient carries a special meaning.

Singapore Noodles

 Long noodles represent long life. "Hao," or oysters, sounds like the word for "an auspicious occasion or event" and symbolize receptivity to good fortune. Lettuce, or "sang choi," symbolizes prosperity because its name sounds like the word meaning "to bring about wealth and riches."

Do sa bao, or commonly known as "red bean paste"-filled buns are another New Years favourite.

Dumplings, which represent wealth, are always a treat. People often get together before the new year to prepare dumplings — which becomes a party in itself — so no one has to work over the holidays. Chinese work hard all year long, and once a year, they take some time off just to enjoy and get together.

And what about the sweet, steamed cakes that are so popular during the Chinese New Year season? Cakes such as Sticky Rice Cake have symbolic significance on many levels. Their sweetness symbolizes a rich, sweet life, while the layers symbolize rising abundance for the coming year. Finally, the round shape signifies family reunion.

So if you missed the fireworks and celebrations on New Year's Eve, don't worry - you'll have another chance to celebrate. Chinese New Year falls on February 7th in 2008.

Chinese braise pig's feet in soy with star anise and ginger.  This is a melt-in-your-mouth experience as the fat braises off, and leaves only the gelatinous sticky skin and tendons clinging to succulent morsels of meat between the knuckle bones.  Not a favourite of mine.  It's a texture thing I guess.  Just like Sea Cucumber which is considered a delicacy I pass it by as it feels like huge chewy chuncks of fat to me.

Soy-anise-roasted beef tendon

New Years Offerings

  Â  Â Pops' Singapore Noodles  Ming Tsai

Chinese restaurants in Europe made this noodle dish famous. It was later introduced to the US in the late 1980

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Gung Hey Fat Choy-2008 Year Of The Rat (Foods For Good Luck) Part 3