Food plays a very important role in Chinese culture, so it is not surprising that many Chinese foods have symbolic meaning. The Chinese Food Symbolism may be based on its appearance or on how the Chinese word for it sounds. Most of the dishes served during Chinese New Year also called Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, are symbolic of something positive and hopeful. Bellow are some of the examples on Chinese Food Symbolism.
Examples on Chinese Food Symbolism
- Chicken and fish: symbolize happiness and prosperity, prefer to be served as a whole especially. Chicken forms part of the symbolism of the dragon and phoenix. At a Chinese wedding, chicken's feet, referred to as phoenix feet, are often served with dragon foods such as lobster. Chicken is also popular at Chinese New Year, symbolizing a good marriage and the coming together of families. Serving the bird whole emphasizes family unity.
- Pork: strength, wealth, abundant blessing
- Duck: symbolizes fidelity, while eggs signify fertility.
- Eggs: symbolize fertility. After a baby is born, parents may hold a "red egg and ginger party," where they pass out hard boiled eggs to announce the birth.
- Dishes made with oranges: represent wealth and good fortune because they are China's most plentiful fruit. Tangerines and oranges are passed out freely during Chinese New Year as the words for tangerine and orange sound like luck and wealth, respectively.
- Noodles: represent longevity. Therefore, they should never be cut!
- Jiaozi- Dumplings (jiǎozi, 饺子): wealth (the shape of the jiaozi dumplings is that of a yuanbao ingot, also the word jiǎozi shares the same pronunciation with 角子 (jiǎozi) that is a small jiao coin used in old times. Other meanings: togetherness, heavenly blessing
- Meat ball (肉丸; ròuwán): reunion
- Mixed vegetable (什锦蔬菜; shíjǐn shūcài): family harmony
- Bamboo shoots: wealth
- Daylily buds, golden lily buds (金针; jīnzhēn; also called "golden needles"): wealth
- Black moss seaweed: wealth
- Dried Bean Curd: happiness (note: fresh tofu is not served because the color white symbolizes death and misfortune in Chinese culture).
- Egg Rolls: wealth
- Chinese garlic chives: everlasting, a long life
- Peanuts: a long life
- Fa Gao (发糕; fāgāo) the steamed "Prosperity Cake": the sound "fa" means either "to raise/generate" or "be prosperous"
- Tangyuan ( 湯圓 ,tāngyuán, "round balls in soup"), sweet dumplings: togetherness, reunion
- Gingko nuts ( 銀杏; yín xìng; or 白果, bái guǒ): hope for silver, wealth
- Grapes (葡萄, pútaó): wealth, abundance, fertility, many descendants, family harmony
Chinese Dishes are also chosen based on homonyms of words that either are spelled the same or sound the same as other words. Fish (yu) is served because it sounds similar to the Chinese word for plenty; whole fish represents abundance. Turnips are cooked because their name (cai tou) also means "good luck."
One of the most popular Lunar New Year dishes is jiaozi, dumplings boiled in water. In some areas of China, coins are placed in the center of jiaozi. Whoever bites into one of these dumplings will have an exceptionally lucky year.
Chinese people like playing with words and symbols. Often homonyms, words that share the same pronunciation but have different meanings, are used. Names of Chinese dishes and/or their ingrediets which will be served sound similar to words and phrases refering to wishes expressed during the Chinese New Year, while other foods hold a symbolic meaning.
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