Festive family feasts

By Grace Su (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-02-05 10:41
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Festive family feasts
Prosperous pots symbolize good fortune in the Chinese New Year. Courtesy of China World Hotel

Friends and family get together to enjoy big servings for a lucky and prosperous new year

Someone made the joke once, that wherever in the world you go, you will always see Chinese people eating.

With the non-stop sound of fireworks (15 days straight!) coming our way, we may forget what Chinese New Year (CNY) is all about - getting together with family and friends for a nice meal, much like Thanksgiving celebrations of the United States.

Some families eat at home and others choose to go out on CNY's eve - this year, Feb 13. Usually at home, a CNY meal consists of the basics: fish, meat (chicken and duck), and niangao.

Many of these ingredients are supposed to signify good luck. For example, the Chinese word for "fish" sounds like the same word for "abundance" (yu) and the words for "sticky rice" (niangao) are the same as "year-on-year growth".

Not ones to miss out on anything to do with eating, Beijingers have the tradition of eating a particular dish starting on Lunar New Year's Day. This year, the agricultural calendar says that it will fall on Feb 14.

According to born-and-bred locals, this tradition started when times were difficult and the New Year was the only time of the year where an excuse can be made to really eat well.

Much like the 12 days of Christmas song of the west where each day of Christmas calls for a gift, the Beijing days of CNY are revolved around eating.

On the first day of New Year, dumplings are made with the family and eaten. The second day is noodles, the third, hezi (a kind of pan-fried hamburger wrapped in dough). On the fifth day, we eat dumplings again, and on the 15th, tangyuan (sticky rice balls in soup).

Of course, that is only for Beijing. In other parts of the country, there are entirely different traditions.

Luckily, for those of us who are too lazy to cook, we can still enjoy eating for "good luck".

Festive family feasts

In addition to eating the basic good-luck dishes mentioned above, many of Beijing's Chinese restaurants have gone all out to name their dishes as auspiciously as possible.

Popular Cantonese dishes like Prosperous Pots (Summer Palace in China World Hotel) and other dishes that have homonyms for good luck such as the "Braised Oyster and Lettuce" (Lijingxuan in Regent Hotel) that symbolize good fortune will probably get an extra dose of attention from the world's most populous connoisseurs.

Restaurants that feature Shanghainese cuisine, such as Shanghai Spring (Jade Garden starting from 1,480 yuan) will also be taking dinner reservations for CNY.

However, non-hotel restaurants will often need an advanced cash deposit to secure a table. For example, Shanghai Spring requires a 500-yuan deposit while Jade Garden requires a 30 percent deposit.

Some restaurants, such as Shanghai Spring, will provide "half-cooked" food for takeaway.

A price of 988 yuan will yield 12 dishes of CNY's eve dinner (six cold, six hot and one snack) to take home and heat up at your own convenience while watching the famed annual Spring Festival on CCTV (the cost 1,388 yuan will include a bottle of red wine.)