An intoxicating mixture of noises, smells and sights will soon fill the streets of Richmond, B.C. as the city prepares for Chinese New Year, the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar. The Year of the Sheep starts today, and food is an integral part of this vibrant 15-day celebration, with the dishes rich in symbolism. To ensure the year ahead is filled with happiness, good health and prosperity, here are eight lucky foods to try during this auspicious occasion.
#8 Dried Oysters with Chinese Mushrooms and Fat Choy
To open the door to good fortune in the New Year
Where: Fisherman’s Terrace
This saucy dish is rich in symbolism. Dried oysters are a delicacy and represent all things good as the Cantonese word for oyster sounds like “good things.” Fat choy, also known as black moss seaweed, signifies wealth and good fortune. The round shape of the Chinese mushrooms symbolizes family reunion and wholeness.
#7 Poon Choi (Peng Cai or Big Bowl Feast)
For prosperity and abundance in the New Year
Where: Hakkasan Bistro Cafe
Poon Choi is a traditional Hakka dish that’s only served on special occasions and is a must-have during Chinese New Year. In Cantonese, “poon choi” literally means big bowl feast because auspicious delicacies like prawns, fish maw, roasted duck, pork-belly, dried scallops, mushrooms and sea cucumber are all layered in a big metal or wooden bowl. Dry ingredients such as seafood are placed on the top while ingredients that absorb sauce well are placed at the bottom of the basin. Resist the urge to stir the bowl as this elaborate dish is intended to be eaten layer by layer. Hakkasan is one of very few eateries in Metro Vancouver where you can find authentic Poon Choi during the Chinese New Year celebrations.
#6 Long Noodles
To ensure a long life
Where: Golden Paramount
Put down that knife! Long noodles equal long life, so keep the noodles uncut and as long as possible. The seventh day of the Chinese New Year (this year, Feb. 25) is known as “Everyone’s Birthday,” but instead of celebrating with birthday cake, it’s a day when people eat noodles, symbolizing longevity. Trying for a baby in 2015? For a double dose of luck, choose egg noodles as eggs are a symbol of fertility. (*Note to editor, the photo is not of egg noodles, but just long noodles from Golden Paramount.)
#5 Fresh Lobster
For a strong marriage and family bond
Lobster is known as the ‘dragon of the sea’ and embodies strength, good fortune, energy and spirit. In Chinese cuisine, a lobster dish, representing the dragon, is often paired with a poultry dish, representing the phoenix, and together the two symbolize a strong marriage and family. Follow this dish with an order of squab for the perfect symbolism of the dragon and phoenix.
#4 Nian Gao (nin gou) Cake
For a rich, sweet year ahead
Where: Saint Germain Bakery
Visit an Asian bakery during the Chinese New Year to find a wide assortment of classic baked treats. Desserts promise a sweet life in the New Year. Nian Gao (nin gou in Cantonese) is a favourite holiday treat at Saint Germain Bakery in Aberdeen Centre; this steamed rice cake is said to predict the future: the higher it rises, the better the year ahead will be. While at Aberdeen Centre, browse the hundreds of vendors at the annual Flower and Gift Fair and be sure to visit the Dragon’s Beard Candy stand, too. This Chinese-style cotton candy is stuffed with sugary ground peanuts, symbolic of long life.
#3 Long Leafy Greens
To wish parents a long life
Where: Tin Tin Seafood Restaurant
Another long food to ensure long life, leafy greens such as Chinese broccoli (or gai lan) are popular dishes to serve whole during Chinese New Year in an effort to wish a long life for parents. Tin Tin Seafood Restaurant serves a fresh and perfectly cooked pan-fried long broccoli with ginger.
To increase your wealth
Where: Jade Seafood Restaurant
Dumplings are a classic Chinese New Year food. Typically filled with minced meat and chopped vegetables, the wrappers are made to resemble ancient Chinese gold and silver ingots that were boat-shaped, like Jade Seafood’s steamed crab meat dumpling. Dumplings therefor represent prosperity and are eaten to bring wealth in the year ahead (the more you eat the better). Dumpling making is often a family affair, with everyone involved in the process, so dumplings also symbolize family unity.
#1 Whole Fish
To ensure long life and good fortune
Where: Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant
Last, but not least, fish. It is customary to serve the whole fish last, pointed toward the guest of honour. The Chinese word for “fish” sounds like the word for “abundance.” Just like the long noodles and whole chicken, the steamed whole rock cod at Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant is served with the head and tail intact to fully symbolize completeness and good fortune in the coming year. Many families leave a part of the fish uneaten and left on the plate to signify the “surpluses” they hope to receive in the New Year.