Chinese New Year 新年快乐! - Food Fitness Faith


年年有余 (Niánnián yǒu yú /nyen-nyen yo yoo/): May you always have more than you need!

Maybe it’s because I’m working very hard on recipes for my cookbook, or maybe it’s because of these winter doldrums. More likely, it’s because my son is dating a lovely Chinese woman who has introduced us to “real” Chinese food. But whatever the reason, I got inspired this year to make a small feast to celebrate the Chinese New year (February 19, 2015).

In the South, we celebrate the new year with food too. We always eat black-eyed peas and cabbage (or collards) to symbolize pennies in the pocket and dollars in the wallet. And of course, one must eat cornbread just because it’s the South, and because the gold color symbolizes gold or wealth once again.

I got to wondering what foods the Chinese eat and for what reasons. I discovered that the most prominent part of the meal must be a whole fish… with tail, head, and eyeballs. This symbolizes abundance and prosperity. The word for fish 魚 (yú) sounds like the word for surplus. So, this corresponds to the black-eyed peas and cabbage I’m used to.

Apparently, it’s better to serve 2 fish, one on New Year’s Eve and one on New Year’s Day, to symbolize surplus year after year. But the main thing is to have some left over to eat on the following day. I just learned this after our meal, and I’m so glad my husband and I couldn’t quite finish the ONE whole fish I cooked. I gave him the surplus to eat the next day for lunch! Yay! I guess we’ll be ok this year and the next!


I placed the fish, green onions, ginger slices and cilantro on top of the fish, drizzled with oil and soy sauce, and wrapped it up in foil. Baked for 30 min.


I opened it up and it was done! Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?


Of course, there’s more to prosperity and happiness than just one fish! Notice the blood orange slices around the fish. Oranges, tangerines and pomelos symbolize fullness and wealth. When spoken, the word for orange (柑橘; gānjú), sounds similar to the word for success. Woo-hoo! I chose well!

Best part of cooking fish this way? Clean up was super easy. I just threw everything back into the foil pouch…


Then we folded it up and discarded it.


The rest of the meal was really just a reflection of trying to come up with food that seemed to fit the Chinese theme. However, when I did more research, I discovered that just about everything has some sort of meaning. The Chinese like to play with words, specifically homonyms (words that sound the same but have different definitions). Much of the symbolism has more to do with the sound of the word than the actual food.

Here are some of the associations that go along with the food I prepared:


I made a salad using kumquats, an Asian pear and some daikon radish. It needs a little work but has promise. I’ll definitely try it again with some modifications.

Kumquat (金橘; jīn jú) - the color gold (like all oranges) symbolizes wealth, just like cornbread!

Pear - uh oh! Symbolizes separation. Well, it was shaped like an apple, so I’ll just pretend that’s what is was.

Apple (苹果; píngguǒ) - symbolizes peace and wisdom.


Mixed vegetables (什锦蔬菜; shíjǐn shūcài) - Generally speaking, mixed vegetables symbolize family harmony. Maybe that will counteract the pear we ate! Specifically, the vegetables I used have meanings too:

Cabbage, Chinese (pak choy, 白菜) prosperity times 100!

Bean sprouts (豆芽; dòu yá, literally "bean sprout/germ" 芽菜; yá cài, literally “sprout vegetable” or 银芽; yín yá, literally “silver sprouts”) I’m not sure which one to choose here, so I’m including all the words. Either way, they symbolize contentment and optimism. A good start for the new year.


We finished off the meal with sweet and spicy peanuts and cashews. Yum! I think these would be great sprinkled on green tea ice cream. We just ate them with the orange slices I had placed around the fish.

Cashew nut (腰果, yāoguǒ) - more money symbolism. I’m beginning to see a common thread here!

Peanuts (花生; huāshēng) - long life and stability (and of course, multiplication of prosperity)

That’s about as far as my food symbolism goes. I forgot to cook the dumplings I had purchased, and I just didn’t feel like having rice, so I missed the mark on some of the New Year traditions. 

Well, this was all fun and delicious! I love to explore different cultures, their foods, and their traditions.

This has reminded me how important tradition is to one’s family and well-being. I’m so grateful for the traditions and faith handed down to me from my family. May God bless you with his peace and love in the coming year, regardless of what calendar you’re following!

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