Eating for luck and abundance

Gau is a familiar gift and treat during the Chinese new year. Sesame seeds on top are symbols of fertility, and a red date adds an element of good luck.

The beginning of the lunar new year is full of food traditions in Chinese culture. Dishes are aimed at setting the tone for an auspicious, bountiful year.

On Day 1, Feb. 16, it’s important to abstain from eating meat for your first meal of the day. In Buddhist cultures, a first dish of vegetables is believed to cleanse and purify body and soul. For this purpose, vegetarian jai comprising 18 different ingredients, each symbolic of an aspect of good fortune, is often eaten.

Zippy’s new vegetarian ramen.

But your choices are not limited to Chinese foods. I just sampled Zippy’s new vegan ramen of soy-vegetable broth with cabbage, nori and bean sprouts, and it was pretty delicious. It’s being offered through March on a test basis, so give it a try and let them know if you want them to keep it on the menu.

Any noodle dish signals a wish for good health and longevity. Just don’t cut the noodles because cut or broken noodles represent poor health.

Also closely associated with the Chinese new year is gau, the sticky brown pudding that is a symbol of family bonds and also said to ensure that fortune, wealth and happiness will stick to you. It is believed to have been originally offered to the Chinese Kitchen God, causing his mouth to stick together so he could not badmouth the family.

Eat candied melon for growth and good health. At top, candied lotus root is eaten to ensure abundance in the new year. These treats are available at Sing Cheong Yuen Chinese Bakery at 1027 Maunakea St., in Chinatown.

And along those lines, one familiar sight in Chinese households is the lucky octagonal Tray of Togetherness, with sugared fruit candies presented to bring sweetness and good fortune into your new year.

A sampling of sweets offered include:
Candied melons: For growth and good health
Red melon seeds: Symbolizing joy, happiness and truth
Lychee: Linked to strong family relationships
Kumquat or oranges: Representing gold and prosperity
Coconut: Signifying togetherness
Peanuts: Representing long life
Longan: For fertility and many good sons
Lotus seeds: Represents a wish for generations of children.
Lotus root: Symbolic of abundance.

So eat up, and Happy Year of the Earth Dog everyone!

By Nadine Kam