By Elaine Dunn

As any kid visiting relatives and friends during Chinese New Year will attest to, the next best thing after receiving the red packets is the variety of snacks that are offered.  What lays under the lid of that Tray of Togetherness (攢盒) -- the round candy box – can make or break the visit!

Every traditional Chinese home will have a candy box sitting prominently on their coffee table or sideboard during entire 15-day Chinese New Year celebration.  This candy box, also known as the “Tray of Togetherness” because it is always round in shape to signify unity and completeness, is filled with an assortment of bite-sized preserved candied fruits, sweetmeats and candy (obvious, isn’t it?) associated with auspicious symbolism: luck, prosperity, good health and fertility.

The box is traditionally made of red or black lacquer with characters and images representing good fortune or happiness on its lid and on the shallow porcelain trays within.  The number of trays are usually six or eight as the number six represents luck and eight represents prosperity.  However, the box in the photo below has seven compartments!  Upon additional web surfing, I found the number of trays can range from five to nine!  So … go figure.

It is also customary to place two tangerines with stems attached on top of the candy box because the word “tangerine” sounds like “gold” in Chinese and its color resemble gold.  So, it pays to add a touch of “wealth” to the sweetness.for the coming year.  The stems of the tangerines represent longevity.

Aside from the snacks, other auspicious foods families eat throughout the New Year are long noodles to signify longevity; fish because it sounds like “surplus/abundance” in Chinese and represents abundance in luck and wealth.  One caveat on eating the fish – one never flips the fish over because in the old days, that can mean a fisherman’s boat turning over at sea!

Families also eat a vegetarian dish on New Year’s Day as a “cleansing” gesture.  The dish is made with a kind of seaweed that resembles long hair (gross to look at and a taste for which this writer never acquired!) but because its name sounds like “get rich,” everyone makes it!

Of course, there are the “cakes.”  The sweet version, niángo (年糕), is made of glutinous rice flour, almond extract and brown sugar, then and steamed.  The slices are then dipped in egg batter and deep fried.  The savoury version, law brag go (蘿蔔糕) is made with rice flour and grated daikon, with bits of Chinese bacon, mushrooms and spring onions.  It also is sliced and pan-fried after being steamed.  (This savoury version is readily available at dim sums.)  The name of these “cakes” in Chinese is “go” and homophonic for ”high.”  Therefore, eating them means kids will grow tall and adults will rise high in their jobs!

Happy Year of the Dog and happy eating for another year!



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There was a joke where I used to work:  How do you get staff to attend an unpopular meeting or presentation?  Provide free food!It appears free food is not a joke in China.  The Chinese take it very seriously.  

Charitable “sharing fridge” not shared

In early October, a new community kitchen with a refrigerator stocked with food meant for needy hungry folks opened in Shanghai’s Putuo District.  However, not all in line looked “needy.”  And once the community kitchen doors opened, families scrambled inside to grab what they could.  A retiree was stopped for trying to take all the food in shopping bags.

Local media, reported on Oct. 13 that 30 food boxes donated by a restaurant were gone within 10 minutes, and sometimes, taken by a single person!  Food placed in a similar fridge meant for seniors in another part of town was taken by people from outside the neighborhood. 

To prevent greedy “snatchers,” the Putuo kitchen has placed volunteer guards who make food takers complete a form before leaving with food.  Other locations are devising “management” strategies.

By Elaine Dunn

The Year of the Monkey is just around the corner.  If you are thinking of throwing a party at home in celebration, be sure you know what auspicious foods to include!  Additionally, the number of dishes served should be six, eight or 10, which means smooth, getting rich and perfect respectively.

Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, is probably one of the most important Chinese celebrations for all Chinese the world over.  Given the importance of food in Chinese culture, it is no surprise that foods will be the centerpiece of any New Year celebration.  Chinese New Year is not only a time for family to get together, it is also the time for households to honor heavenly deities and pay respects to ancestors.

Foods with special significance and why

What gives certain foods their sway to impart luck and good fortune?  Some are based on their shapes; others are based on the sound of their names.  Traditionally, Chinese New Year celebrations start on New Year’s Eve when families gather for a reunion dinner and to celebrate the departure of the Kitchen God (so he can report to the higher heavenly authorities the favourable behavior of the family during the past year).  

By Elaine Dunn

Quick, which general from Hunan Province, China, is better known than Mao Zedong in the U.S. and not because of his role on the battlefield?  Answer: General Tso.  

Walk into any of the approximately 50,000 U.S.-based Chinese restaurants or Asian buffets and you’ll come across a dish called General Tso’s chicken (左公雞).  This sweet, slightly spicy, deep-fried chicken nugget dish is one of the most ubiquitous – and popular – dishes in America.  So was this chicken dish really a favourite of General Tso?  

Who is General Tso?

By Greg Hugh -

As North Americans prepare to celebrate our traditional Thanksgiving feast with family and friends with a large roasted turkey as the centerpiece of the meal, it should be noted that this is not a holiday typically observed within China.  The obvious reason is the origins of Thanksgiving when, in the autumn of 1621, English colonists in America whom we call Pilgrims, celebrated days of thanksgiving for their first successful harvest.  Also, another reason could be attributed to the fact that the typical kitchen in China does not have an oven, let alone one large enough to roast an average 18-lb. turkey!

In lieu of what Benjamin Franklin had lobbied to be the national bird of the U.S.A., China has its own famous fowl, the Peking duck.  It is one of the most famous dishes of Beijing cuisine.  It was originally prepared for the imperial families of China, with a history of more than 400 years.  In its classic form, the dish calls for a specific breed of duck, the Imperial Peking, that is force-fed and housed in a small cage so that inactivity will ensure tender meat.  The neck and head are left intact as the bird is killed (at about six weeks old) and dressed, and after the entrails are removed, the lower opening is sewn shut. Air is forced between the skin and flesh to puff out the skin so that the fat will be rendered out during roasting and the skin, the choicest part of the dish, will be very crisp.  The inflated bird is coated with a sweet solution, hung up to dry, then suspended and roasted in a traditional cylindrical clay oven.

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