BEIJING – Besides the firecrackers and dragons for which Chinese Lunar New Year is famous, the festivities also feature a series of traditional dishes that are savored as part of celebrations marking the start of the Year of the Pig.
Despite China’s diverse gastronomic offering, there are some dishes that are of such cultural significance that they simply cannot be missing from tables across the country.
Fish, a popular ingredient to cook with throughout the rest of the year, has a special importance during this period because the pronunciation of the world in Chinese, “yu,” sounds similar to that of abundance.
The homophone also determines the type of fish that is consumed. Among the most eaten is the goldfish as its name includes the syllable “ji,” which sounds like “good luck” in Mandarin.
After eating, the head and tail of the fish must be left in reference to a popular saying while the head must point towards the oldest diners as a sign of respect.
Many of the traditional dishes of the Chinese New Year seek to attract prosperity: the Chinese word for cabbage sounds like “limitless wealth,” which is why many of the “jiaozi” dumplings are filled with the vegetable.
In fact, it is said that whoever eats more of these classic Chinese dumplings during the Lunar Year dinner will earn more money in the coming year.
Another traditional dish is “hong shao rou,” a classic pork dish and favorite of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, which seems particularly apt for welcoming in the Year of the Pig.
Sweets also feature prominently in the festivities: the “yuanxiao” or “tangyuan,” glutinous rice balls symbolizing family reunions, and mandarins and grapefruit, which, when eaten together, are believed to bring good luck.
EFE visited one of the outlets of the renowned Daoxiangcun bakery, which has over 600 stores throughout China, where its manager Wu Guohua said sweets in China are called “small, good wishes,” so gifting them is a wish for a better year.
During this festive period, the store sells around 25,000 yuan ($3,710) worth of sweets per day, though the store’s physical turnover only represents 60 percent of the total.
Among the most popular sweets is, as expected, one shaped like a pig, another that commemorates ancient Chinese coins, and another that means cake of good luck.
Lu Hongbin, the manager of Beijing’s oldest Peking Duck restaurant Bianyifang, founded in 1416, told EFE they have five to six times more work during Chinese New Year.
The restaurant had hardly any tables left, according to the manager, who said people call to reserve for the festive period six months in advance.