The Lunar New Year (or Chinese New Year) is one of the largest events of the year across Asia. Festivities can last for over a week before and after the actual date! In the midst of all the amazing dragon and lion dancing, firecrackers and beautiful banquets, have you ever stopped to think about the significance of all these traditions? Just like any major event or social gathering, knowing the agenda and its importance can add another layer of appreciation and enjoyment to participating – not just for the yummy experience! See below to read up on the traditional and foodie meaningfulness of this special time of year, from a foods-eye-view!
Why does the date change every year?
The date of the Lunar New Year is usually between 21 January and 20 February and varies from year to year because it is calculated from the lunar-solar calendar and movement of the moon. This year of 2017, it was on January 28th which marked the beginning of the year of the Rooster! The lunar-solar calendar is used for most traditional festivals and events in Asia, and also follows the agricultural calendar – so it is sometimes called the Spring Festival and signifies celebrations leading up to the busy harvest season. Nonetheless, to this day it’s still an important time for family to gather and celebrate, to share blessings (and red envelopes) and to prepare for the New Year ahead.
New year, starts today
Unlike 1st January, people don’t make New Year resolutions. Instead, they focus on reconciliation, making amends and restoring harmony. More spiritually, people invest in a better year of good fortune and prosperity. It’s about living in the ‘now’ and doing what you can in the moment for a better future. Sound familiar? You may have heard of mindfulness which practices the idea of living in the moment as well. These principles of living in the moment and investing in the future can apply directly to our health and diet. Eat well today for a healthier tomorrow and keep doing this for a healthier you decades down the track.
Good company is always paired with good food!
The Lunar New Year takes its food very seriously. Superstition and tradition play a big part in what can and cannot be eaten as well as how things are served up. Share the Lunar New Year spirit in your very own household with these New Year menu ideas and their meanings! Try out this delicious vegetarian San Choy Bao for another lucky meal.
- Dumplings – for prosperity and wealth
Arrange these lucky bundles in rows rather than circles – circles imply that your life will go in circles (never progressing anywhere). Traditional fillings include pork mince and cabbage or radish which are both believed to be good for skin and mellow mood – probably true if you think of the health benefits of eating more veg, and feeling good about it!
- Spring rolls – for wealth
These are arranged in rows as well, and resemble bars of gold. Try oven baking your next batch of spring rolls for the same delicious crunch without the fat and oil from the deep fryer! Serve them up with chilled crisp lettuce and sweet chilli sauce for a refreshing wrap.
- Noodles – for longevity and happiness
Longer noodles are believed to symbolise longer life, so slurp them up (and try not to bite them short as you go!). Some noodles and commercial soup stocks can be high in salt, which is definitely not a promoter of longevity. Keep your serves of noodles to half a cup cooked per person and add plenty of leafy greens like buk choy and choy sum. If you’re using commercial soup stocks choose salt-reduced varieties, or make your own stock bases by simmering meats and mushrooms (especially shiitake) for rich a natural deep flavour. Serve with chilli and Asian herbs and spices for extra flavour boosts – ever tried star anise, Chinese cinnamon or cloves?
- Fish – for a year of surplus
Certain fish have particular meanings in the New Year feast; carp for luck, catfish for surplus and eating one on New Year eve and one on New Year day means years and years of surplus. The fish is cooked whole, head to tail, and served with its head facing the eldest or highest positon diner who then must start eating first before everyone else can dig in. The Chinese word for fish sounds similar to “surplus” or ‘remainder”, so some of the fish is deliberately left uneaten on the plate to symbolise having extra (e.g. income, profit, luck) at the end of the year.
- Orange and red fruits – for success and luck
Round fruits that are orange, red or gold symbolise luck, wealth and fullness. In Australia, we are blessed with an abundance of summer fruits in time for the Lunar New Year so why not make the most of the celebrations with some stone fruits, mangoes, melons (symbolise family unity) and apples (for safety and peace). Great way to meet your daily two serves of fruit!
- Glutinous rice cakes – for a “higher” or better year
The Chinese word for cake sounds similar to “high” or “tall”, which is why this dish resembles advancements or attaining higher status, business, grades and even growth (literally height-wise) for young children. These are typically made with sticky rice and can be savoury or made as a sweet dessert with sugar and fillings such as chestnuts, Chinese dates and lotus leaves.
- Sweet rice balls – for family union and being together
These are chewy balls made of sweet sticky rice that are boiled and served in a sweet clear soup. They are a great way to finish off an Asian meal on a sweet note and to keep everyone at the table for post-mealtime chatter (they are one of my favourite New Year foods). You’ll find these sold in packs in the frozen section of your local Asian grocer – some are plain while others may be filled with red bean, black sesame or even peanut paste (peanut butter fans, you’ve found your Asian counterpart!). Keep an eye out for them during the Mid-autumn or Lantern festival in September, as they are also the main festive food for this event (so twice as many opportunities in the year to enjoy them!).
Happy Lunar New Year!