Lunar New Year’s Food Traditions Around The World
The lunar new year is the time for family reunions and together delicious traditional foods such as Chung cake, dumplings, tteokguk, and much more. However, these are not foods associated with the lunar new year only, but also a symbol of culture. Every dish has its background deeply rooted in each country. Different kinds of food have different meanings, which express people’s good wishes for the new year.
Let’s read this article to find out more about traditional food in the lunar new year.
1. Viet Nam
Chung cake is Vietnam’s traditional food during the lunar new year for a long time ago. According to the old legends, Chung cake appeared in the Hung King dynasty. This cake symbolizes the ground expressing gratitude to the ancestors and the earth, and sky.
In the traditional conception of Vietnamese people, the process of making Chung cake is an opportunity for the family to come together. Sitting around the warm fire, all members of the family tell one another the past stories and are ready for a New Year with wishes for the best things.
The main ingredients are glutinous rice, pork meat, and mung beans wrapped in a square of bamboo leaves that will give the rice a green color after boiling. Rice cake is wrapped in a square shape, and the wrapping power must be neither tight nor loose.
Then the cake will be boiled for about 12 hours with wood. It has nutrition with an original tasty flavor and may be kept for a long time. Eating Chung cake with vegetable pickles will bring you an unforgettable taste.
The five-fruit tray is a must-have on the altar during the lunar new year. The exact selection varies through time, region, and even the house owner’s preference. However, they must be of a different color as the five-fruit tray also plays an important role in decoration for Tet.
In Northern Vietnam, popular choices are orange, banana, pomelo, tangerines, pear, and the “Buddha’s hand” fruit. Meanwhile, in Southern Vietnam, where some of those fruits are not available due to a hotter climate, people often choose watermelon, papaya, mango, pineapple, coconut, or dragon fruit.
Interestingly, there is another way of explaining why they use five fruits on the altar in the south during the lunar new year. These fruits are custard (mãng cầu), fig (sung), coconut (dừa), papaya (đu đủ), and mango (xoài) which can create the phrase “Cầu Sung Vừa (Dừa) Đủ Xài (Xoài)”. It sounds like a wish sentence that people hope for happiness, lucky, and prosperity for the new year.
- Custard (mãng cầu): wish for everything will be good in the new year.
- Coconut (dừa): hope for the family always be together
- Papaya (đu đủ): bring fullness and prosperity to the owner.
- Mango (xoài): express the wish for a year of consumption without deprivation (in the South, the word “mango” is pronounced similarly to the word “Xài”).
- Figs (Sung): represent the abundance of wealth and the fullness of health.
In Chinese, “fish” (鱼 Yú /yoo/) sounds like “surplus”. Fish is a traditional lunar new year dish on the Chinese dinner menu. Chinese people always like to have a surplus at the end of the year, because they think if they have managed to save something at the end of the year, then they can make more in the next year.
The fish should be the last dish left with some leftovers, as this has auspicious homophonic for there be surpluses every year. This is practiced north of the Yangtze River. However, the head and tail of the fish shouldn’t be eaten until the beginning of the year, which expresses the hope that the year will start and finish with a surplus.
Steamed fish is one of the most famous lunar new year recipes. Furthermore, the Chinese also like to eat some other fish based on auspicious homophonic:
- Crucian carp: As the first character of ‘crucian carp’ (鲫鱼 jìyú /jee-yoo/) sounds like the Chinese word 吉 (jí /jee/ ‘good luck’), eating crucian carp is considered to bring good luck for the next year.
- Catfish: The Chinese for “catfish” (鲶鱼 niányú /nyen-yoo/) sounds like 年余 (nián yú) meaning ‘year surplus’. So eating catfish is a wish for a surplus in the year.
With a history of more than 1,800 years, dumpling (饺子 Jiǎozi /jyaoww-dzrr/) is a classic lucky food for the lunar new year, and a traditional dish eaten on the lunar new year’s Eve, widely popular in China, especially in North China.
Dumplings have two symbolic representations. The shape of the dumplings resembles the Chinese Tael, which is believed to bring in wealth and treasures in the upcoming year. The second reason is that the dumplings have stuffing, to which people often add auspicious materials. In some places, people even put a clean coin into the dumplings, because they are of the opinion that the one who eats the coin will become wealthier.
Generally, dumplings consist of minced meat and finely-chopped vegetables wrapped in a thin and elastic dough skin. Popular fillings are minced pork, diced shrimp, fish, ground chicken, beef, and vegetables. They can be cooked by boiling, steaming, frying, or baking.
Yusheng or Prosperity Toss is a Cantonese-style raw fish salad. It is a customary lunar new year dish, traditionally served on the 7th day of the lunar new year, known locally in Singapore as Renri. Renri means “every man’s birthday” with people becoming a year older on this day.
Yusheng’s meaning represents raw fish so salmon is the focal point of the dish and is served uncooked and cold alongside other ingredients. Furthermore, it is arranged on a very large circular plate. Yusheng is one of the most colorful cuisines of all the lunar new year food.
It consists of shredded carrot, green and white shredded radish, pickled ginger, crushed peanuts, pomelo, cinnamon, pepper, and golden pillow crackers and is accompanied by a variety of condiments.
An interesting part of yusheng is the specific order that the ingredients must be added one by one, each accompanied by a different new year wish. For example, salmon is the first to go in, with the server reciting the Singaporean idiom “nian-nian-you-yu” which hopes for abundance throughout the year.
Once all of the ingredients have been prepared, everyone seated around the table will stand up to toss the yusheng using chopsticks, a ritual called “lo hei” (meaning to rise), for the person who tosses the yusheng the highest is thought to achieve rising prosperity.
Many Koreans ring in the new year with a breakfast of tteokguk, a traditional rice cake soup, on both solar and lunar new year’s day.
This dish of broth with chewy slices of rice cake, garnished with egg, thin-sliced vegetables, and mushrooms, tastes great on a cold winter’s morning. It’s thought to bring good luck for the lunar new year and also soothes a lunar new year’s party hangover. Tteokguk is soft and soothing like the full moon.
The rice cake used to make this dish is initially made from “garaetteok,” which is a long form of rice cake. Its shape is symbolic, of wishing for longevity in life. The oval shape of the rice cakes resembles coins, another expression of wishing for wealth and prosperity. Then it is cut into bite sizes before it is put into a soup.
Since in the Korean way of counting one’s age, everyone turns a year older on lunar new year’s day, there’s a saying that you can’t turn a year older until you finish your tteokguk. Children are said to put down multiple bowls to gain additional years and seniority over their peers, while older women leave a little left in their bowls and thus avoid aging.
If you wish to conduct business in any of the markets that celebrate the lunar new year, make sure to acknowledge and respect their distinct customs. Furthermore, you can try on their traditional food to show an understanding of cultures which creates a good starting point for your business to impress clients, business partners, and colleagues.
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