Gong Xi Fat Choy!

Year of of the Dragon

It’s Chinese New Year today, year 4709 by the Chinese calendar, and Year of the Dragon.  The New Year greeting – Gong Xi Fat Choy (or Fa Cai) – wishes prosperity for the new year.  On the advice of an acquaintance from Malaysia, I put gold coins under my pillow, so I wake up in the New Year with wealth.  Well, they’re chocolate candy coins wrapped in gold foil.  But same effect.

I asked my colleague, Mary Lee Chin RD, for some insight into traditional foods for the New Year celebration:

  1. Fish, served whole at the conclusion of a meal, is an important New Year food.  With the head and tail attached, the fish symbolizes a good beginning and a good ending for the new year.  It’s a good choice from a health point of view: high protein and high omega-3.
  2. Tangerines and oranges, which symbolize luck and wealth.  Luckily both are in season right now, loaded with vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber.  Plus a refreshing tangy taste.
  3. The word for shrimp in Cantonese – Ha – reflects laughter, so include shrimp for happiness.  Also for protein, minerals and some omega-3.
  4. Eggs for fertility (and for protein, vitamin A and choline).  Traditionally, eggs are dyed red for spring.
  5. Another traditional dish, Buddha’s Delight, symbolizes both the purifying qualities of vegetables, and the belief that no animal should be killed on the first day of the new year.  As Mary Lee notes, several of the ingredients have special significance:
  • Lotus seed – signify having many male offspring
  • Ginkgo nut – represents silver ingot
  • Black moss seaweed – is a homonym for exceeding in wealth
  • Dried bean curd is another homonym for fulfillment of wealth and happiness
  • Bamboo shoots – is a term which sounds like “wishing that everything would be well
  • Fresh tofu is not included as it is white and unlucky for New Year.  White signifies death and misfortune.

Well, I certainly did not know about the tofu symbolism, so I’ll save myself a trip to the grocery store today.  I checked on random recipes for Buddha’s Delight on the internet, and found several with fresh tofu.  Oops.  This one uses the recommended dried bean curd.

My friend Callie, also from Malaysia, offers some other food symbolism:

  • Yellow noodles for longevity.  Just don’t cut the noodles when serving or eating – it’s bad luck.
  • Chicken, served whole, for family togetherness.  Mary Lee adds that “whole” means the feet and head are left attached, because cutting them off severs your good luck.
  • Spring rolls have a similar shape to gold bars, and also symbolize wealth.
  • Mixed vegetables signify family harmony, in addition to the purification idea.  And of course, vegetables are generally really nutritious.
  • Sticky rice cakes for dessert, for a sweet life all year.  The round shape symbolizes the family reunion circle.

If you don’t have time to make all this yourself, and can’t find a chicken with the head and feet still attached, you can at least eat fish, avoid meat, cook some noodles, eat a vegetable dish and put some gold under your pillow.  Gong Xi Fa Cai.

Copyright: All content © 2010-2019 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.