New Year’s Eve dinner, or reunion dinner is the most important celebration for Chinese lunar New Year. All family members will gather for good food to greet for good luck in the coming year. Just like turkeys on Thanksgiving, some particular dishes are iconic parts on Chinese New Year's Eve dinner table.
Dumpling is apparently the most iconic dish of the reunion dinner, a symbol of reunion and happiness. Dumpling resembles an ancient gold ingot. It comes in various fillings, such as minced pork, minced beef and other minced meat and chopped vegetables. In Northern China, dumplings are commonly eaten with a dipping sauce made of vinegar and chili oil, and occasionally with some soy sauce added in.
Tangyuan and Yuanxiao are the must-have delicacies during the Lantern Festival, celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month, because of a homophone for union. Tangyuan or Yuanxiao is a Chinese dessert made from glutinous rice flour with fillings of red bean, sesame, peanut, chocolate, or other sweet fillings. Yuanxiao is more popular in northern China and Tangyuan is welcomed in the south.
A whole fish is always a centerpiece for the Chinese New Year, because the pronunciation of Chinese word “yu” means “surplus” or “extra.” Leaving some meat on the bones at the end of the meal is a wish for surplus and abundance in the coming year. The typical blessing is Niannianyouyu (年年有余), wishing you to have a surplus (or fish) of food and money every year. Tradition says that the head of the fish should be oriented toward the dinner's most important guest to show respect. Turning the fish over on the plate is a taboo.
A whole chicken, represents reunion and rebirth, is another symbol of family. Rich in protein, one chicken is enough to feed an entire family. After cooking, people will first offer the chicken to the ancestors for blessings and protection, which is still a significant part of the Chinese New Year. It is believed that the main workers of the family should eat chicken feet, also called phoenix claws, to help them grasp onto wealth.
Niangao, also known as a rice cake, is prepared from glutinous rice. It literally means Chinese New Year's cake and is most popular during Chinese New Year. It is believed that eat Niangao during the Chinese New Year will bring good luck as it is a symbol of raising oneself taller in each coming year. Niangao is also served as an offering to the Kitchen God, with the aim that his mouth will be stuck with the sticky cake, so that he can't badmouth the human family in front of the Jade Emperor.
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