New outfits, red and gold decorations welcoming prosperity, luck and abundance, the clang of lion dances. All familiar and dear traditions of a new Lunar New Year. Central to the spirit of CNY is the food. Sharing a meal together is the main thread uniting loved ones, friends and colleagues, making CNY a special and treasured time of year.
According to Chinese legend, fire crackers were used to fend off the monster Nian, who appears on the first day of the new year, looking for humans to feast on. Hence, the reason for setting off fire crackers during this time. While hiding in the safety of their home, families prepared a feast for their ancestors and gods, praying for blessings and protection. This act signifies our reunion dinner, a meal where, no matter how busy we are, we make the time to spend this meaningful moment to feast with our family.
The reunion dinner table is filled with many traditional dishes, many of which carry different meanings. What are your favourite dishes? Do you know their significance? Let’s take a closer look at what goes into them, and how you can enjoy a healthy feast with your family this CNY!
1. Nian Gao
Significance: Symbolises a desire for growth and increasing prosperity every year.
Traditional: Made of deep fried sticky rice flour and brown sugar, served as a dessert, with deep fried yam and sweet potato.
Healthy: Steaming instead of deep frying, gives you a delicious, healthier nian gao. You can dip it in a variety of nuts to give it a tasty crunch, and better nutrient value.
2. Tang Yuan
Significance: The colorful balls, served in a sweet soup, represent family unity and a sweet life.
Traditional: Glutinous rice flour, mixed with food colouring and water.
Healthy: Replacing artificial colouring with the natural colours of sweet potato, purple yam, beetroot juice and pandan leaves, gives you a more colourful and healthier version of this favourite dessert.
Significance: Steamboat is the centerpiece of every reunion dinner. The round pot, surrounded by everyone cooking and feasting together at a round table, represents a united family, strong family bonds and sharing happiness.
Traditional: Steamboat is a simmering pot of soup, used to cook a variety of slices meats, dumplings, seafood and vegetables.
Healthy: Replace processed foods, such as crab sticks, fish balls and sausages with more veggies and whole foods, eggs, seaweed, etc. This will provide you with more vitamins and minerals, and fewer calories. Your eating sequence may also affect the total calorie intake of your meal. Start with soup and vegetables, before consuming meats and fats.
4.Yu Sheng (Lo Hei)
Significance: Gathering with family and friends to toss yu sheng during CNY is a must to welcome the Lunar New Year. It is believed that the higher the toss, the better fortune you will have in the new year.
Traditional: Yu Sheng is a Cantonese-style raw fish salad. It’s consists of raw fish slices, sauce and colored crackers.
Healthy: Make your own Yu Sheng with fresh ingredients, such as raw fish, shredded carrot, shredded cucumber, pomelo, shredded white radish, sesame, chopped peanuts, and plum sauce. Not only is it delicious and healthy, your DIY yu sheng is also friendly on your pocket!
5.Emperor’s Imperial Meal: Poon Choi
Significance: Made with premium foods, representing fortune and wealth.
Traditional: Poon Choi, also known as “big bowl feast” is a dish where the ingredients are cooked in layers, and serve in a bowl. Prawns, scallops, sea cucumbers, fish maw, meat and oysters are the commonly used for poon choi.
Healthy: Make this healthy big bowl dish healthier by adding vegetables, such as broccoli and chinese cabbage, tofu, bamboo shoots. Mushrooms are a great natural taste enhancer. Go light on salt and sauces, and feast like an emperor.
Have you wondered why we exchange pairs of oranges during CNY? This is because the Cantonese pronunciation of orange sounds like giving gold to the recipient, with the belief that good things come in pairs. Filling up on oranges, which are rich in fiber, and low in calories, will help you cut down the intake of cookies, bak gua and soft drinks and help you eat healthier during CNY.
Give some of the healthy twists above a try for a healthier new year. Wishing you and your loved ones a happy, healthy and prosperous CNY. Gong xi fa cai!
Pharmacist and formulator. Passionate about making a difference in healthcare and personal wellness through nutrition.