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What to Expect at a Chinese New Year’s Dinner

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Chinese New Year's DinnerWhat to expect, when you’re expecting… a Chinese New Year’s Dinner.  The Chinese New Year is coming up , and we’d like to help you prepare, or at least set your expectations when you’re about to go to dinner to celebrate.  One thing you can certainly expect is to eat a LOT of food.  So be prepared.  Forget about the one hour rule!

Everything that you eat at a Chinese New Year’s dinner has a meaning and filled with superstitions.  Always.   And for the Chinese New Year, there are no shortage of foods that are considered “lucky”, either because of specific connotations in the Chinese culture or because they sound lucky.

Eight Treasure RiceSome families will go out for Chinese New Year’s dinner, usually having a banquet meal (eight or nine courses.  Eight and nine are both lucky numbers to Chinese people*), that consists of chicken, seafood, pork, beef, vegetable, noodle and rice dishes. Most Chinese have fruit for “dessert”, especially oranges because of the luck they bring. It’s not uncommon to have 8 Treasure Rice which has a lot of dried fruits that signify good tidings (luck, prosperity, etc). It’s also common to have special candies only eaten during the Chinese New Year’s celebration as well, and that also includes some dried/candied fruits.

*8 The word for “eight” (八) sounds similar to the word which means “prosper” or “wealth”.  There is also a visual resemblance between two digits, “88”, and 囍, the “shuāng xĭ” (“double joy” or happiness), a popular decorative design composed of two stylized characters 喜

*9 The number nine (九) was historically associated with the Emperor of China.  The number was frequently used in matters relating to the Emperor.  Before the establishment of the imperial examinations, officials were organized in the nine-rank system, the nine bestowments were rewards the Emperor made for officials of extraordinary capacity and loyalty.  While the nine familial exterminations was one of the harshest punishments the Emperor sentenced; the Emperor’s robes often had nine dragons, and Chinese mythology held that the dragon has nine children. It also symbolizes harmony

Foods Eaten on Chinese New Year’s

Noodles, also known as Long Life Noodles, are eaten to bring longevity. They are uncut noodles prepared in a variety of ways, and obviously, the longer the better.

Oranges, usually Mandarin, are eaten and given out as something sweet and because, in some Chinese dialects, the name also means “luck.”

Dumplings – At this festive meal they have special significance because of their shape, symbolizing family togetherness. They are often prepared with all of the generations of the family and are eaten at midnight.  Some dumplings are also eaten to represent wealth and are shaped like ancient Chinese coins.

Spring rolls, or egg rolls, are also considered to bring good fortune, as their shape resembles that of a gold bar.

Buddha’s Delight, not to be confused with “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall Soup”, is a dish seen on many Chinese take-out menus, but on Chinese New Year’s it holds a special significance.  This strictly vegetarian dish (no animals should be sacrificed in Buddhism) is packed with 18 ingredients (another lucky number) and usually includes bamboo shoots, mushrooms, dried lily buds, and beans.

Jin Duey are sesame-coated rice balls made from a glutenous flour that puffs up when fried.  It is believed that they bring growing fortune because they expand.

Sweet cakes are eaten to represent the sweet life.  A chewy Sticky Cake, or Nian Gow, represents a family’s cohesiveness and closeness.

Chinese New Year's Dinner FishThe last course of fish is not served to be eaten, but to represent abundance of wealth of the family.  Often, the fish comes out with the head and tail intact, as the Chinese word for fish also sounds similar to wish.  It is included on the table as hope that the new year brings each family member what they wish for.

Wishing you all all that you desire.

What’s on your wish list?

Humbly submitted for your consumption,

Mee Magnum  (“Chop!  Chop!”)

P.S. Every year, the Chinese New Year celebrates a different animal.  Which animal you are?

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