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by Rena Fulgencio, staff writer

Food is a big part of the Chinese New Year celebration. The foods served around this time of year signify such things as happiness, longevity, and wealth and prosperity. Tangerines, which are a symbol of good luck, are often given away throughout the festivities in Chinatown.

During both food preparation and dining, the Chinese rarely use cutting utensils, such as knives and cleavers during the New Year celebrations. They believe these are unlucky because they may divide the good luck, so foods like noodles and vegetables are traditionally served uncut.

Traditionally, at home, an even number of courses are served for dinner on the eve of the New Year because multiples of two represent double happiness and fortune. One of the courses often includes a whole yu, or fish, as it symbolizes togetherness and abundance. It is never fully consumed, thus symbolically ensuring the family will always have “more than enough,” which is what the written character for yu means.

Jai or Buddha’s Delight is vegetarian dish that’s also popular with the Chinese during the New Year. It is made with 18 ingredients, believed by the Chinese to be a lucky number.

Another popular New Year’s dish, one that also symbolizes continuous good fortune, is fire pot. It is served fondue-style and includes ingredients such as assorted meats, seafood, mushrooms, and noodles, each with a special meaning. These are dipped in a hot broth placed in the middle of the table.

Chinese words for certain foods sound like other words that mean good luck. In the fire pot dish, oysters are included because the Chinese word for oysters, hao sounds like the word for “an auspicious occasion or event.” Eating oysters as part of the fire pot thus increase our receptivity to good fortune.

Another example, lettuce, called sang choi, sounds like the word that means “to bring about wealth and riches” or “rising fortune,” so it symbolizes prosperity. From www.recipezaar.com, here is an Asian lettuce wrap appetizer that you can try at home: Prep time: 20 minutes, cook time: 15 minutes
Ingredients:

· 1/4 cup water
· 1/2 cup teriyaki sauce
· 1 cup carrots, shredded
· 2 tablespoons oil
· 1 tablespoon cornstarch
· 8 ounces water chestnuts
· 6 large lettuce leaves
· 1- 1 1/4 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts

Preparation:

1. Whisk water and cornstarch in a large bowl until smooth.
2. Stir in teriyaki sauce.
3. Add finely sliced chicken breast and chopped water chestnuts.
4. Stir to coat and marinade for 30 minutes.
5. Cook until brown in wok or skillet with oil in small batches, constantly moving.
6. Lay out the lettuce leaves, divide meat evenly on leaves and top with shredded carrots.
7. Wrap like a cone.

Rice cake is often served for dessert. It has many levels of symbolic meaning. The sweetness of the cake represents a rich, sweet life, while the layers imitate rising abundance for the coming year. The round shape signifies the coming together of family.
All that’s left now is cook and enjoy.
Kung hee fat choy!

 

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