Hakkasan Restaurant » Lantern Festival http://hakkasan.com Hakkasan Restaurant serves Michelin Star awarded Cantonese Cuisine Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:35:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 The symbolism inherent in Chinese New Year cuisine http://hakkasan.com/blog/the-symbolism-inherent-in-chinese-new-year-cuisine/ http://hakkasan.com/blog/the-symbolism-inherent-in-chinese-new-year-cuisine/#comments Tue, 16 Feb 2016 18:02:14 +0000 http://old.hakkasan.com/?p=5793 The many celebrations during Chinese New Year focus on family reunion, with people travelling across the country to visit the provinces they grew up in and the families they grew up with. Many of these festivities centre on food, from the symbolism of each ingredient used in the celebratory dishes to the culinary rituals associated […]

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The many celebrations during Chinese New Year focus on family reunion, with people travelling across the country to visit the provinces they grew up in and the families they grew up with.

Many of these festivities centre on food, from the symbolism of each ingredient used in the celebratory dishes to the culinary rituals associated with the festival, all deeply rooted in Chinese culture.

Much of the symbolism inherent in Chinese cuisine stems from the homophones associated with each food. While all languages have homophones, they are especially prevalent in Chinese, and they play an important role in the culture of the country.

This is wholly evident in the food eaten around Chinese New Year, when certain dishes are enjoyed not only for their taste but for the symbolism associated with them: each dish represents a particular wish or hope for the coming year.

Jiaozi

With a history of more than 1,800 years, jiaozi, or Chinese dumplings, are traditionally made and eaten on Chinese New Year’s Eve, especially in the northern provinces of China.

The dumplings, often shaped to look like boat-shaped silver ingots, an ancient Chinese currency, are symbolic of prosperity and wealth due to their auspicious shape.

In some provinces it is customary to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve to enjoy jiaozi. It is usually served with little other than garlic and soy sauce, and often a coin will be stuffed into one of the dumplings for one of the family members to find: this person will be considered to have the luckiest year ahead.

Tangyuan

Similarly to jiaozi, tangyuan are dumplings that are enjoyed during the Chinese New Year festival. However, that is where the similarities end.

Tangyuan are made from glutinous rice flour usually filled with sesame or red bean paste and served in the sweet broth that they are cooked in. They’re traditionally eaten in the southern provinces of China where rice flour is more common, and they are eaten at the end rather than at the beginning of the Spring Festival celebrations, usually during the Lantern Festival.

They symbolise family reunion, as their name is a homophone for reunion, and their round shape symbolises togetherness.

Yu

Fish is often eaten at Chinese New Year, and it is an ingredient that is celebrated because of its auspicious homophones.

In Chinese, the word for fish sounds like ‘surplus’, and this is an important element for many people to have throughout the year. It is also significant to choose a certain fish based on these homophones; for example, the first character of the word for ‘crucian carp’ sounds like the Chinese word for ‘good luck’, and so therefore eating this fish is considered to bring fortune in the coming year.

It is also crucial that the fish is eaten in a certain way. It should be the last dish left at the meal and there should be some left over, as this represents surplus being available every year. This tradition is practiced north of the Yangtze River, but in other areas the head and tail shouldn’t be eaten until the very beginning of the year, expressing the hope that the year will start and finish with surplus.

Nian gao 

Nian gao, or ‘year cake’, is a sticky rice cake which represents prosperity; the words ‘nian gao’ sounds like ‘getting higher year on year’, and this symbolises raising oneself taller in each coming year.

The Chinese word nian, meaning ‘sticky’, sounds like the word for ‘year’, while the word ‘gao’ meaning ‘cake’ is identical in sound to 高, which means ‘tall’.

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Lantern Festival http://hakkasan.com/blog/lantern-festival/ http://hakkasan.com/blog/lantern-festival/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 15:09:27 +0000 http://old.hakkasan.com/?p=3675 The annual Lantern Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunisolar year, and marks the final day of the Chinese New Year festivities. During the festival, people get together to celebrate the beginning of Spring by lighting lanterns, watching fireworks and eating yuanxiao (or tangyuan), sweet stuffed glutinous rice […]

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The annual Lantern Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunisolar year, and marks the final day of the Chinese New Year festivities. During the festival, people get together to celebrate the beginning of Spring by lighting lanterns, watching fireworks and eating yuanxiao (or tangyuan), sweet stuffed glutinous rice dumplings. This year the Lantern Festival falls on Thursday, 5th March.

Lanterns

The main event of the Lantern Festival is the lighting of the lanterns, and this activity originated during the reign of Emperor Hanmingdi (58-75 BC). Historically, the lanterns owned by the majority of the common people were simple with very minimal design. Only the emperor and noblemen had large ornate lanterns. However, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the most prosperous period in Chinese history, the Lantern Festival was celebrated on a much larger scale, and it is at this time that the festival evolved into a country-wide party. It is said that during the reign of Emperor Tangxuanzong, 50,000 lanterns were lit in Xian City, the capital of the Tang Dynasty.

The lanterns are almost always red, as the color is symbolic of good fortune and prosperity in China. Nowadays, the lanterns vary in shape and size, occasionally created in the form of animals, insects, flowers, people and even machines and buildings. Others depict scenes from popular stories teaching traditional values. In Taiwan, the lanterns represent brightness and birth, which is why women who want to be pregnant often walk underneath hanging lanterns while praying for a child.

Origins and customs

The festival, although not a nationwide public holiday, is one of China’s more significant dates, and it can be traced back to the Han Dynasty more than 2,000 years ago.

There are many alternative stories and beliefs relating to the Lantern Festival’s origins.

One story suggests that the holiday is attributed to Taiyi, the ancient god of heaven. The belief is that the God of Heaven controlled the destiny of the human world. He had sixteen dragons at his beck and call, and decided when to inflict drought, storms, famine or pestilence upon humans. Emperor Qinshihuang, who first united China, held the first Lantern Festival to ask Taiyi for good weather and fortune.

Another common explanation for the Lantern Festival is rooted in Taoism. One story centers on the Jade Emperor, whose favorite crane flew down to Earth and was subsequently hunted and killed. The Jade Emperor was furious, and planned a firestorm as retribution. However, the emperor’s daughter was kind and warned the villagers first. A wise man from a neighbouring village suggested that the villagers hang red lanterns outside their homes, make bonfires and light firecrackers, to give the illusion that the village had already burned to the ground. On the day of retaliation, the Jade Emperor was tricked into thinking the village was ablaze, and the villagers escaped without tragedy.

Lantern riddles (cai deng mi)

An essential part of Lantern Festival celebrations include guessing lantern riddles. These riddles are attached to the lanterns and are often very challenging, some similar to English riddles and others based on the construction of Chinese characters or referring to traditional poetry. The person who answers the riddle correctly usually wins a small prize.

Yuanxiao

Throughout the festival, people eat yuanxiao (or tangyuan), and the Lantern Festival is sometimes referred to as the Yuanxiao Festival. The sticky rice flour dumplings are sweet, often stuffed with red bean paste, sesame paste or crushed peanuts. The name tangyuan in Chinese has a similar pronunciation to tuanyuan which means ‘reunion’, so people believe the dumplings signify union, harmony and happiness for the family. It is also believed that the round shape of the yuanxiao and the bowls in which they are served symbolise family togetherness, and eating the dumplings may bring happiness and good luck in the New Year.

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