Gong Xi Fa Cai!
— This article appeared in the January/February 2017 Bamboo Telegraph, Singapore
Happy Chinese New Year! Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore are particularly special! There is much to do and see and, of course, eat! Do you know that many of the foods consumed during Chinese New Year have a special meaning?
Gong xi fa cai! Literally translated it means ‘wishing you enlarged wealth’. Reunion dinners, red packets and fireworks are all synonymous with Chinese New Year. Food also plays an important role during the celebration. It is not just what is eaten, but how it is selected, prepared and served that is auspicious and significant. For example, greens and noodles are selected for length; whole fish is served with the head pointing to the eldest or most distinguished guest and if dumplings don’t have enough pleats it is thought to purport poverty.
Eight auspicious food choices to try this year:
Yusheng or Prosperity Salad – Have you seen people throwing their food in the air? Popular during Chinese New Year in Singapore, yusheng gives new meaning to a tossed salad. This salad is served in middle of a table and each ingredient is kept separate. Guests are given chopsticks and mix the ingredients by tossing them in the air. Some of the auspicious mix includes green radish (for youth), raw fish (for abundance), pomelo (for luck), carrots (for good fortune) and pepper (for wealth). The salad is tossed 7 times while saying ‘lo hei’, literally meaning ‘toss luck’.
Oranges and tangerines – Because of similar sounding words in Chinese, oranges represent wealth and tangerines represent luck. Bring oranges and/or tangerines when visiting friends this year.
Yu or Fish – The Chinese word for fish and abundance sound similar. A whole fish is served to represent unity and always having enough. The fish must be served intact; with head and tail attached. Some fish must be left over for the next day in order to link the years together.
Nian Gao or Year Cake – This sweet cake is made from glutinous (sticky) rice. This cake symbolizes growing to great heights in the coming year as the words cake and high are similar.
Pineapple Tarts – They are buttery and delicious; if you haven’t tried pineapple tarts, you are in for a treat! These are found in most homes during Chinese New Year and are readily available at markets throughout Singapore. They are auspicious because the Hokkien name means prosperity is coming.
Hand Pulled Noodles or Longevity Noodles – Long hand pulled noodles play a role in both Chinese new year and birthday celebrations. The longer the noodles, the longer your life!
Jiaozi or Dumplings – Dumplings are generally eaten at midnight on new year’s eve. It is not uncommon for everyone to help make 100’s of dumplings for family celebrations. While different fillings have different meanings, dumplings in general represent wealthy and prosperity.
Be encouraged to try some local dishes during this Chinese new year and look for opportunities to participate in local customs. Have fun engaging in Singapore culture through food!