Chinese New Year has become a part of the Filipino culture, especially dining—not only because the Philippines is host to the world’s oldest Chinatown, but also of a large chunk of the populace having some Chinese ancestry. No wonder Filipinos love Chinese cuisine.
Locals enjoy watching Lion and Dragon dance performances, and eating tikoy (rice cake made from glutinous rice flour) during this now-declared public holiday, and having a share of the auspiciousness of the festivities.
There are certain dishes—considered lucky foods—prepared and eaten during the Chinese New Year, owing to their symbolic meaning based on their appearance or the way their names are pronounced.
According to chinahighights.com, the most common foods that bring good luck for the coming year are fish, dumplings, nian gao (sweet rice cake), and spring rolls.
Fish: a must for increased prosperity
Fish (yoo) sounds like surplus in Chinese. To have surplus at the end of the year means there have been savings, and there are better chances for more blessings in the coming year. Lucky fishes to eat are Chinese mud carp, crucian carp, and catfish. These should be eaten last, with some leftover, particularly the tail and the head. Eating the tail and the head at the start of the New Year signifies surplus.
Dumplings for wealth
Dumplings (jiaozi, pronounced as jyaoww-dzzr), which generally consist of minced meat and finely chopped vegetables wrapped in thin and elastic dough, may also have fillings made of fish, ground chicken, shrimp, minced pork, beef, and vegetables.
Made to look like Chinese silver ingots—boat-shaped, oval, and turned up at the two ends—these can be cooked by baking, frying, or boiling. A legend as old as 1,800 years has it that the more dumplings eaten during the festivities, the more money will be made in the New Year. Dumplings that have cabbage and radish are believed to signify fairer skin and gentler mood throughout the year.
Take note also that dumplings must be arranged in lines instead of circles, as the latter could mean a life of just going around in … well, circles, or nowhere.
Spring rolls for wealth
Cylindrical in shape and fried to golden yellow like gold bars, spring rolls are filled with meat, vegetables, or something sweet. In Chinese it is pronounced as hwung-jin wan-lyang, which means “a ton of gold”—a wish for prosperity.
Nian gao for higher income or position
Glutinous rice cake or nian gao, which is more popularly known as tikoy in the Philippines, sounds like “getting higher year-on by year.” For the Chinese, the higher one becomes, the more prosperous he is in life. Nian gao’s main ingredients are sticky rice, sugar, chestnuts, Chinese dates, and lotus leaves.
It’s auspicious to say nyen-nyen gaoww (getting higher year-after-year by year), as this implies a rise in business success, better grades for students, that children would grow taller, and promotion at work.
Sweet rice balls for togetherness
Tangyuan (pronounced as tung-ywen) or sweet rice ball is the main food for the Chinese Lantern Festival, but also eaten throughout the Spring Festival. Its round shape and pronunciation imply reunion and togetherness, reason why it’s favored during the New Year festivities.
It is considered as luck to say twann-twann ywen-ywen or “group-group round-round. Happy (family) reunion!”
Longevity noodles for happiness, long life
Changshou mian (pronounced as chung-show myen) or longevity noodles are, without a doubt, symbolizes a wish for longevity. Noodles that are uncut during preparation may signify a long life for the diner. Longevity noodles are uncut and longer than common noodles, cooked in oil and served on a plate, or boiled and served with broth in a bowl.
Good fortune fruit for fullness, wealth
Orange, tangerine, and pomelo (grapefruit) are selected particularly for their round shape and golden color—symbols of fullness and wealth—notwithstanding how they are pronounced and written.
Orange (and tangerine) is chen (pronounced as chung), which sounds the same as success in Chinese. In writing, tangerine contains the Chinese character for luck.
Grapefruit, on the other hand, is thought to bring continuous prosperity—the more you eat, the more wealth it brings.
In Chinese, pomelo sounds like “to have” (you).
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