In many cultures, people attach a special symbolism to certain foods. Often, the symbolism involves religion, superstition, or cultural tradition. In Singapore, many of the dishes served during the Chinese New Year have specific symbolic meanings connected with them. Find out what each dish means so that you can customise your New Year table to bring in great fortune!
Nian Gao is a sticky, jelly-like rice cake that’s served all year, but attains special status during Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore. Nian Gao means “higher year,” which indicates the hope of a higher social status or a great level of financial achievement during the coming year. You can fry Nian Gao in a pan to add crispness or serve it sweetened with brown sugar, Cantonese style.
Yu Sheng, a raw fish salad, is traditionally served on ren ri, the seventh day of the New Year. The dish as a whole represents abundance, while the number and configuration of the ingredients are sometimes given their own individual symbolic meanings. In many homes, Yu Sheng is assembled while blessings are spoken, and then all the guests stand up to toss the salad, expressing more good wishes.
Chang Shou Mian
Are you interested in gaining long life? Serve Chang Shou Mian, also called “longevity noodles”. Though you may eat them at other times of the year, they gain additional significance when you consume them during Chinese New Year celebrations. Want to increase the noodles’ life-lengthening symbolism? Add mustard greens, which represent extended life for parents.
Dumplings are a favourite during the Chinese New Year. If you’re hosting an event, make sure to have your Singapore caterer make the dumplings in the shape of ingots to indicate wealth. Jiao Zi need to be stuffed with chicken and soy ginger and consumed at midnight. Sometimes, hosts include a coin in one of the dumplings, indicating an extra dose of prosperity for the one who receives it.
Another Singapore favourite is Tang Yuan, sweetened rice balls. These delicious balls are also supposed to bring financial prosperity to those who eat them during New Year festivities. Tang yuan is also eaten during the Dong Zhi festival.
Want to go big with your New Year celebrations? Serve Peng Cai, the “big bowl feast,” to your guests at the celebration. It’s a single pot of layered ingredients, including plenty of vegetables, meats, seafood, and sauces. Delicious and festive, it indicates wealth and abundance.
Oranges and Tangerines
Mandarin oranges and tangerines symbolise wealth because of their rich colour. They also represent fullness or abundance because of the roundness of their shape. In Chinese, the word for orange sounds like the Chinese word for success, adding to the significance of the fruit. If you’re having a dinner party, get your caterer to incorporate tangerines and oranges into the decorations, the centrepieces, and, of course, the meal itself.
With all of these rich traditions, you’re sure to have a New Year feast that is as symbolically rich as it is delicious. Why not add your own tradition as well? Find a dish that your family and friends love, assign a meaning to it, and serve it every Chinese New Year. Who knows— it may become a beloved tradition for generations to come!