Food Symbolism

Food Symbolism during

 

Chinese New Year Celebrations

 

 

 

Chinese like playing with words and symbols. Often homonyms (words that share the same pronunciation but have different meanings) are gladly used. Names of dishes and/or their ingredients which will be served sound similar to words and phrases referring to wishes expressed during the Chinese New Year, while other foods hold a symbolic meaning.

 

Food offerings are a prayer or a wish and can be addressed to ancestors and other beings such as the Jade Emperor and The Kitchen God. The offering of food serves to bring ancestors and other beings in the other world closer to oneself. The food offerings serve as a bonding tool to bring both worlds together.

 

The Symbols of Food and its Representation for the Lunar New Year

 

Chinese often like to play around with homonyms – words that share the same pronunciation but diverse in meanings. Whether it’s the shape, colour or symbolic representations, these are prominently used in the auspicious & grand festivals like the Chinese New Year, weddings, birthdays and etc.

 

 

 

 

 

Below a brief list of the food’s symbolic meaning:

 

 

 

Abalone (鲍鱼) – definite good fortune

 

Apple (苹果) – wisdom, peace

 

Apricot, dried (杏脯) – gold, wealth

 

Arrowhead (慈菇) – benevolence

 

Arrowroot (竹芋) – good life

 

Bamboo fungus or bamboo pith (竹笙) – long life

 

Bamboo shoots (竹笋尖) – wealth, a new start

 

Banana (香蕉) – wish for education, brilliance at work/ school

 

Bean curd/tofu (豆腐)- fulfilment of wealth and happiness

 

Bean curd sticks (腐竹) – blessing the house

 

Bean sprouts (豆芽/芽菜) – to your heart’s content, positive start into the new year

 

Black moss (髮菜) – wealth

 

Cabbage, Chinese (白菜) – 100 types of prosperity luck

 

Calms (扇贝) – opening of new horizons

 

Calm roll (干贝) – gold, wealth

 

Carrots (紅蘿蔔) – good luck

 

Cashew nut (腰果)- gold, money (the shape symbolises the ingot of ancient times)

 

Chicken (whole) (鸡肉) – prosperity, togetherness of the family, joy (note: chicken with its head, tail and feet symbolises completeness)

 

Chinese garlic chives (韭菜) – everlasting, eternity, long life

 

Coconut (椰子) – promoting togetherness

 

Duck (鸭肉) – fertility

 

Egg (蛋) – fertility

 

egg roll (蛋皮春卷) – money, wealth, gold

 

Fa Gao/steamed Prosperity cake (发糕) – to raise, be prosperous

 

Fish, whole (魚)-remain or surplus, having leftovers

 

Fish ball (鱼蛋) – reunion

 

Golden lily buds, Daylily (金针) – wealth

 

Gingko nuts ( 銀杏/白果)- hope for silver, wealth (the shape represents a silver ingot)

 

Glass noodles, Chinese vermic (粉絲) – silver chain

 

Grapes (葡萄) – wealth, abundance, fertility, many descendants, family harmony

 

Dumplings (饺子) – wealth, togetherness (the shape is that of a ingot)

 

Jujube, dates (蜜枣) – wealth, prosperity, fertility

 

Kumquat (金橘) – gold, fortune, wealth

 

Lettuce (生菜) – prosperity

 

Longan (龙眼) – many good son

 

Lotus seeds (蓮子) – a full wallet, many male offspring

 

Lychee (荔枝) – close family ties

 

Maize (玉米) – growth

 

Mandarin oranges (瓯柑) – gold, wealth

 

Meat ball (肉丸) – reunion, togetherness

 

Mixed vegetable (什锦蔬菜) – family harmony

 

Black fungus, Wood ear (木耳) – longevity

 

Noodles, uncut (面条) – long life

 

Onion (洋葱) – cleverness

 

Orange (柑橘;) – wealth, good fortune, gold

 

Oyster (牡蠣) – receptivity to good fortune, good business

 

Oyster, dried – all good things, good luck

 

Peach – immortality

 

Peach, pair of (桃) – wealth, abundance, long healthy life, great fortune for many generations

 

Peanuts (花生) – health, long life, birth of prosperity, continuous growth, multiplication in wealth and good fortune, stability

 

Pineapple (凤梨) – wealth, luck, excellent fortune, gambling luck

 

Pomegranate (石榴) – many offsprings

 

Pomelo (柚子) – abundance, prosperity, having children, good health, family unity

 

Pork (猪肉) – strength, wealth, abundant blessing

 

Prawn (大虾) – liveliness

 

Pumpkin (南瓜) – prosperity, abundance, descendant’s luck, illustrious children, enchantment,

 

Rice (米饭) – fertility, luck, wealth

 

Sticky rice cake (年糕) – increasing prosperity every year.

 

Roseapple (蒲桃) – calmness, peace of mind, no fighting

 

Shitake, Black mushroom (冬菇) – longevity, sizing opportunities

 

Shrimp (小虾) – happiness and good fortune

 

Snow peas (荷蘭豆) – unity

 

Spring roll (春卷) – wealth (the shape of a gold bar)

 

Sweet corn (甜玉米) – growth, increase

 

Sweets, (糖果) – safety, good fortune and ‘sweeten’ the new year

 

Tangerine (橘) – luck

 

Turnip cake (萝卜糕) – good omen

 

Vegetable, green (绿叶菜) – close family ties

 

Walnut (核桃仁) – happiness of the entire family

 

Water chestnut (荸薺) – unity

 

Winter noodle (冬粉, dōng) -ee glass noodle

 

 

 

NOTE:
Presenting a “whole” chicken with its head, tail and feet symbolism completeness.

 

Fresh bean curd / tofu is not included as it is white and unlucky for New Year as the colour signifies death and misfortune.

 

Fresh fruits symbolise life and new beginnings.

 

Sugared fruits are supposed to sweeten one’s upcoming year.

 

Sweets and fruits are served on a round tray, the form resembling togetherness, hence the tray is called the “Tray of Togetherness”. Sweets offered on the tray add up to the number 8, because eight is a lucky number and symbolises fortune.

 

A coin might be hidden in one dumpling, and the person who will find it is supposed to be showered with good fortune and wealth.