Chinese New Year's Eve Prosperity Dinner 2016

Monday, February 08, 2016

It's Chinese New Year! And the crucial New Year's Eve dinner presents an opportunity to affect our fortune for the coming year by preparing symbolic foods that represent, symbolize or even sound like all the good things we wish for. It's pretty straight forward ... you consume everything citrusy, red, and a lot of fish, and by gosh! you shall be showered with luck, prosperity and abundance ;)

I strived for 8 dishes, a lucky number by Chinese standards, but somehow ended up with 9! Even better! And as luck would have it, there was a bottle from Dageraad ... 8º, which satisfied both a definitive report of the weather outside and a symbol of luck and prosperity. Fortuitous indeed!

We start our meal with the Yusheng Salad, also known as Yee Sang or Lo Hei. Literally meaning raw fish, this dish actually originated among the Teochew community in Singapore in the '60s where restaurant chefs allegedly introduced this expensive dish to hike up the already pricey set menus. The presence of raw fish symbolizes wealth, and the colourful vegetables signify vigor and high spirits. This salad is meant to be tossed (from the word lo) by the diners while chanting Lo Hei ... Lo Hei, representing the moving and shaking of the business community to acquire significant wealth and prosperity. Lo Hei in Cantonese means striking it big.  

Our vegetarian rendition features grapefruit segments, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, and crisp wonton strips, with a house plum-sesame dressing. I may not be able to wait till next year to make it again. 

These gold bars, brilliantly disguised as spring rolls, are a must-have to ring in the New Year. I have to come clean ... all I did was pop them in the oven ;) although we did make the accompanying sweet and sour sauce.

Jiaozi dumplings (potstickers) are shaped like traditional gold ingots, and legend has it that the more dumplings you eat, the more wealth you will encounter. It should be duly noted that the dumplings are supposed to be plated in lines, and not circles, because circles mean that your life will just be going around in circles and we surely don't want to get stuck in a carrousel.

One surely looks forward to noodles in any celebration, and this dinner is no exception. Long strands of uncut noodles symbolize a long life with more colourful veggies to signify vitality.

The word for fish is a homonym for surplus and is very auspicious to have as part of a Chinese New Year's Eve meal. The fish has to be presented in its whole state and positioned to point its head towards the eldest or the head of the family. Said person has to start eating the fish before the rest of the diners can enjoy it. 

The fish is also the last to be eaten and has to have a little bit left over on the plate, just like surplus, which is what you have left after everything is expended. And in the same token, you wouldn't want to finish it completely in order to make sure you have enough 'surplus' for the coming year. One also does not turn the fish over, rather one would lift the center bone to expose the other side. 

We steamed the grouper with ginger, green onions, soy and sesame oil, and served it on a bed of lettuce strips. 

My rice-loving daughter was aghast when she found out I didn't plan to make rice because it was white, but we made peace with a turmeric tinged rice, laced with our five-spice powder. Gold rice it was! 

The presence of Lapis Legit or Kueh Lapis is a nod to our Indonesian heritage, where multiple layers of cake signify multiple fortunes coming your way. A rich and moist treat, this layered cake is best enjoyed with a strong cup of tea. We have our own unique way of eating it ... by tearing off the slice into individual layers and having it one by one, stretching the gratification, as well as the calories.

Of Californian origin, fortune cookies are now the sweet ending to many Chinese meals. And why not? You not only get a sweet bite, but your destiny, and a winning lottery number as well. These fortune cookies are double the treat because they are covered in decadent dark chocolate! You seriously can't stop at just one.

I suppose no other food represents Chinese New Year as much as oranges. Being round and golden in colour, oranges signify fullness and wealth. Also, the Chinese word for orange is a homonym for success. Whether it be navel oranges, grapefruit, tangerines or pomelos, it's best to consume them in copious amounts to guarantee abundance this coming year ;)

Yes, preparing this meal was quite an arduous task, though ardently undertaken. Fortunately, my troops were ready, willing and able and easily bribable by the end result. There are so many foods, so many meanings, and as one may think, so many rules, but everything should be taken in a positive and a light-hearted stride. The goal was never to bend over backwards to incorporate what is seemingly impossible, rather the inclusion and enjoyment of delicious foods, taking into context its significance and wishing it to 'affect your fortune'.

And so to you all, I wish you not only Xin Nian Kuai Le, which means Happy New Year, but after these numerous attempts to bring in fortune and prosperity, a more befitting greeting would be Gong Xi Fat Choy which literally translates to Wishing you increase in wealth.

May this year of the Fire Monkey bring you good fortune, abundance and prosperity. And may you always have a good meal!

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