Apart from celebratory activities and vibrant decorations, food plays a central role in Chinese New Year proceedings, as it brings all members of the family together. These are some of the special dishes served for their symbolic meanings during this festive season.
Prosperity yee sang platter from Lai Ching Yuen, Grand Millennium Kuala Lumpur
Yee sang is phonetically derived from yu sheng, which refers to increasing abundance in Mandarin. The tossing of yee sang, a raw fish salad which is said to have originated in Malaysia, is a tradition practised by many locals during Chinese New Year, especially during reunion dinners.
With raw salmon as the main component, the salad comprises multiple ingredients such as finely sliced radish, pomelo and crackers, which are mixed together with a sweet and tangy sauce. Many restaurants put a modern twist on this dish by incorporating alternative ingredients like abalone, jelly fish and fruits.
As it’s tossed, you’ll hear shouts of good luck and prosperity ring out and when it’s all said and done, everyone digs into the delicious mixture.
Prosperity Treasure Pot poon choi from Dynasty, Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel
Not exclusive to Chinese New Year, poon choi has become a festive dish over time as it represents the communal spirit. Literally translated as ‘basin dish’, poon choi is composed of layers of ingredients that are highly valued.
Start from the top and you’ll find sumptuous vegetables and seafood such as abalone, scallops and prawns in the layers. Poon choi is not only perfect for sharing but also serves as a grand centrepiece at the dining table.
Glutinous Rice Cake
Known as nian gao in Mandarin, glutinous rice cakes are prepared in Chinese homes during the festive season for good luck and to mark academic achievements or career advancements. Traditional Chinese glutinous rice cake is steamed in lotus leaf baskets and can be prepared in several ways.
Dessert- and snack-based examples are quite common, making use of the rice cake’s enticing sweetness and sticky texture. You may also come across deep-fried glutinous rice cakes layered with sweet potato, or stuffed ones topped with shaved coconut.
Fish, pronounced as yu in Mandarin, carries the same phonetics as another word that means surplus, and is a dish included in reunion meals to wish for abundance of fortune each year. Having fish steamed is often preferable, especially for fresh catches, as it allows the flavours and texture of the flesh to shine.
It is a common Chinese practise to avoid flipping the fish to eat the flesh on the other side as doing so is believed to bring bad luck.
Dumplings made to resemble Chinese ingots or yuan bao, a currency used during the 20th century, are available and consumed throughout the year but are particularly served during Chinese New Year to symbolise wealth. Chinese dumplings are stuffed with white fish or pork-based filling mixed with chives for an onion-like flavour.
During this time of the year, many Chinese families would also get together to wrap dumplings and tighten bonds between family members. Traditionally, a gold coin is wrapped in a few dumplings and those who take the dumplings will have good luck on their side.