Depending the region you are from, there are different practices and ways of celebrating Chinese New Year. For folks from Southern China like myself, the New Year dinner consists of different dishes with symbolic meaning or names that sounds like Chinese characters for fortune, happiness, longevity and prosperity. For example fish is a common dish served, because the Chinese name for fish also rhymes with abundance and it is never completely eaten to make sure that the family will have an excess of fortune in the year. When fish or fowl is served on the table, they are prepared whole for the use of cleaver is unlucky because this could “cut” the family’s good fortune.
Another food item which is common in the Southern region is nian gao which is a steamed pudding make of sticky rice, it is said to make people ” advance towards higher positions and prosperity step by step”. I remember growing up making nian gao was quite the affair in our household because of its symbolic meaning. The rice pudding is displayed as whole until the second day of the New Year, the “Day of Commencement”, as the New Year officially begins. This is the day I looked forward to as a child, because that was the day when my mother would cut the rice pudding in thin slices and dip it in beaten egg and then fried it to a nice crispy golden brown. This is my favorite food even now.
Northerners celebrate the New Year by getting together to make dumplings. From rolling out the pastry, making the fillings, and wrapping the dumplings, it is a communal affair. The dumplings look like golden ingots ( yuan bao) used during the Ming Dynasty and by serving them will bring the promise of wealth and prosperity.
New Year hot pot dinners have always been very common in the provincial districts of China but now it becomes increasing popular because not only is it delicious, it is also economical and less time-consuming to prepare, and no one needs to get stuck in the kitchen for hours and miss all the festivities with the family. Similar meals are called shabu-shabu in Japan, suki in Thailand, lau in Vietnam, and “steamboat” in Singapore and Malaysia. This Chinese fondue consists of a simmering metal pot of stock at the center of the dining table. While the hot pot is kept simmering, ingredients are placed into the pot and are cooked at the table. Typical hot pot dishes include thinly sliced meat leafy vegetables, mushrooms, wonton, egg dumplings, and seafood.The cooked food is usually eaten with a dipping sauce.
To celebrate the New Year, our staff had a special hot pot lunch today, we all brought different items to contribute towards the meal and ended up with a whole table of food. We had tons of leftover enough for a couple of days. We had a really good time. That is the best way to celebrate the New Year.