Lunar New Year 2021 – Food is Heaven!
Part 3 of a CulturalPulse 5-part series on Lunar New Year
Panda Express TV have released its Chinese and Lunar New Year video. This is one of our favourites that shows the importance of food when reuniting families during the 15 days of festivities.
Part 3 – Food is Heaven
“To the people, food is heaven” (民以食為天, mín yǐ shí wéi tiān)
The above ancient Chinese saying captures how serious food is in Chinese culture. Food is much more than just a provider of energy and nutrition and during the Song Dynasty (960AD – 1279AD) there could be more than 200 dishes served at a royal banquet.
China has one of the most diverse culinary heritages in the world divided into 8 traditional cuisines: Sichuan, Anhui, Shandong, Fujian, Jiangsu, Guangdong/Hong Kong, Hunan and Zheijang.
Lunar New Year feasts are extremely important to Chinese and other Asian communities and the two most important are the New Year’s Eve dinner (年夜饭 / Nián yèfàn) or Reunion dinner (团年饭 / tuán niánfàn).
Confucius once said:
“Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters” and his sentiment has strong echoes in modern times where all family members and close friends make an effort to return home to enjoy the feasts. In the event that a family member cannot make it home, traditional households will leave a spot at the table empty for them including their own bowls and utensils.
The legend of the Spring/Lunar New Year Festival has scary origins with people hiding in their homes and preparing a feast for their ancestors and gods in an attempt to keep the monster Nian from terrorising their house.
The feasts are also a communal effort in which everybody brings their specialty dishes, created to give blessings for the new year covering luck, prosperity and happiness.
The foods served during the reunion dinner and all the gatherings during the fifteen days hosted by family and friends are important and have symbolic meanings.
Traditionally, chicken, duck and pork was more widespread and available to families, and these are still important foods today but serving fish and seafood signifies wealth and prosperity. If you can serve a variety of dishes you are showcasing success and prosperity which you hope will carry through into the new year.
Typically, the Northern regions in China prefer dumplings, wheat noodles, steamed buns, and stuffed buns. Festival menus in the Southern regions in contrast are centred on bowls of rice or rice noodles with almost every meal including great varieties of fruit and vegetables and finished with local varieties of rice cakes.
We asked some CulturalPulse Community Ambassadors from Chinese communities across Australia for their favourite ‘food’ memories.
For Michael Deng, Chairman of Australian Chinese Sports Club, Sydney, food is especially important when it comes to maintaining Chinese traditions:
“Traditionally, in China, seafood was quite expensive so serving this indicated the families wealth and prosperity. In modern times seafood is readily available but we have a greater variety to choose from. Mud crabs are popular, barramundi, rainbow trout and lobsters are highly valued foods on the table.”
“The younger generation prefer chicken and beef. Traditionally the Southern Chinese dishes are of the steamed variety cooked with garlic and ginger and or soya chicken with the more popular crispy chicken dishes. Roast duck is also popular.” He adds.
Ted Fong, President of the Gold Coast Chinese Club and one of the early founders of ‘Chinatown’ on the Gold Coast, fondly reflects back on his mother’s cooking:
“My mother’s cooking was always my favourite during Lunar New Year and its something I continually reflect on during this auspicious time. It’s always a time of year that takes me back to when I was a young boy and we as a family would eat together and enjoy Lunar New Year celebrations.”
“In today’s world, popular dishes include steamed chicken, roast pork and steamed or grilled whole fish like barramundi. Being on the Gold Coast seafood is very popular. The young ones also enjoy roast duck and the world famous ‘Peking’ duck with a variety of soups including clear chicken and or vegetable soup and dumplings during this auspicious time.”
Cecil Huang from the 1688 Media Group in Melbourne says there are some standard foods that should be served:
“Dumplings are common from the northern regions and chicken steamed or roasted, rice, whole fish steamed, and sweet rice cakes are some of my favourites.”
Lin K originally comes from Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province, known for its famous spicy dishes. She remembers one family Lunar New Year ritual:
“Our tradition was that the family members had to eat a minimum of 4 sticky rice balls, each one representing the 4 seasons. Inside each sticky rice ball was black sesame with sugar. It was a sweet tasting experience and represented a smooth, happy and sweet year ahead. These days we can still enjoy these sticky rice balls and I now share this tradition with my daughter.”
List of Chinese/ Lunar New Year Foods and their meaning:
- Spring rolls: luck, prosperity, gold
- Dumplings: good luck for the new year
- Eggs:big and healthy family
- Lobster:endless money rolling in
- Shrimp:fortune and wealth
- Roasted pig:peace
- Tofu:happiness and fortune for the entire family
- Fish:surplus and wealth
- Steamed chicken: family unity, reunion, rebirth, peace
- Rice cakes (nián gāo) – success and improvement/growth
- Seaweed: wealth and fortune
- Lotus seeds:a blessing for many children and a healthy family
- Bamboo shoots: longevity, as well as going onward and up
- Grapefruit: wealth and prosperity
- Poria mushrooms: blessings and fortune
Check out the Panda Express TV Lunar New Year that highlights the importance of the feast.
- Lunar New Year – Part 1 – It’s a Family Affair
- Lunar New Year – Part 2 – Connection through Gifts
- Lunar New Year – Part 4 – Its lion and dragon dragon dancing
- Lunar New Year – Part 5 – It’s the Lantern Festival
Lunar New Year is one of the largest festivals in the world, spanning 15-days and celebrated in China, South Korea, Vietnam and in East Asian diaspora communities across the world.
Keen to learn more or reach the 1.4 million strong Chinese community in Australia or other Asian markets in Australia? Contact our team at [email protected]