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Auspicious food that ushers in the festival

By Sun Ye | China Daily | Updated: 2013-02-04 10:33
Auspicious food that ushers in the festival

Pan-fried nian gao, or glutinous cake, which is homophonic with "higher every year" in Chinese. [Photo by Fan Zhen / China Daily]

China is huge enough that regions in the north and south seem like two different worlds. Yet, no matter northerners or southerners, all Chinese believe you are what you eat - and that is why the naming of the dishes for the all-important Spring Festival dinner is so important.

Auspicious food that ushers in the festival

And when it comes to that Big Meal of the year, aptly named delicacies from all parts of the country happily appear on the table. We recently saw exactly such an example on the menus of the Shang Palace at Shangri-La Beijing.

Almost all set menus start with "lo hei", Cantonese for "tossing up good fortune", manifesting itself in a plate of colorful salad ingredients in individual piles - thinly sliced fresh raw salmon, shredded white radish, carrots and jellyfish, pickled Chinese leeks and a host of other symbols of good health and wealth.

The cornucopia of ingredients, all fresh and enticing on their own, is only part of the ritual, which involves chanting the appropriate mantras as you prepare the salad for the final toss.

As the special dressing is poured on, it is "golden liquid lubricates your way to great fortune", a squeeze of lime is all about "big fortune descends upon us", lime being homophonic with fortune.

The mandatory sprinkle of five-spice powder (representing gold dust) comes in red packets, which usually hold the "lucky money" given out to the elderly and the young.

Shang Palace's Cantonese executive chef Sham Yun Ming makes sure it is well distributed so his diners enjoy good luck throughout the year.

Another auspicious southern tradition comes in a large basin, although it is presented in more delicate porcelain tureens at therestaurants. Pen cai, originally fromHong Kong's New Territories, is rich and indulgent in a similar vein.

Auspicious food that ushers in the festival

Auspicious food that ushers in the festival

Lunar New Year wishes 

Make decorations and snacks to greet Spring Festival 

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