Chinese New Year / Possibly more than any other Chinese holiday, the Lunar New Year (2/3) is the most celebrated, with food at the forefront of tradition. Lucky snacks like oranges and harmony trays filled with lychee nuts, and eating fish the night before the Chinese New Year are just some of the ways the Chinese culture honors certain food traditions. Eating nian gao (Chinese New Year’s cake) is symbolic of raising oneself higher in the coming year and is made from glutinous rice and brown sugar and is steamed into a sticky pudding-like cake. Its round shape is symbolic of the family bond and the sugar symbolic of the subtle sweetness found in everyday life.
Good luck eats like these are served all hours of the day during the Chinese New Year, and traditionally, nian gao and jai (also known as monk’s food) are substitutes for otherwise meat-filled dishes. (Ancient Chinese believed that taking an animal’s life and eating it on the first day of the year might decrease one’s ratio of good luck to bad).
For local Vietnamese, Lunar New Year’s eats include banh chung and banh day (tightly packed rice with meat or bean fillings wrapped in dong or banana leaves), roasted watermelon seeds, pickled onion and cabbage and murt (dried candied fruits rarely eaten any other time of the year). In Honolulu, Vietnamese restaurants have been known to plate up pork stomach stewed in coconut juice served with boiled eggs in a broth-like sauce with pickled bean sprouts and chives during New Year’s festivities.
Both traditions have a list of “do nots” in regards to the foods we shouldn’t eat during the passing eve of the new year. Eating duck meat is believed to be unlucky and one should shy away from eating shrimp because shrimp swim backwards and might be symbolic of one’s movement in the coming year.
This Chinese New Year, find out what your lunar sign is and take your appetite to at least one of Honolulu’s finest Chinese restaurants. If not for the food, for the luck.