Celebrating the year of the snake

Chinese dumplings

This coming Sunday begins the Chinese New Year. The Chinese calendar is a lunar/solar calendar and other names for this festival - by far the biggest in the Chinese calendar - are the Lunar New Year and the Spring Festival. The celebration begins on the new moon on the first day of the new year (Feb. 10 this year) and ends on the full moon 15 days later. Each year has, as its symbol, one of the animals of the Chinese zodiak. Last year was the year of the dragon; this year is the year of the snake.

While there are numerous regional differences in how ethnic Chinese celebrate the new year, the common denominators are gifts of money in red envelopes and traditional foods that are deemed lucky because they sound like words for wealth, good health, and other desirable features. We should note that fresh bean curd or tofu is not included as it is white - that color signifies death and misfortune. 

Some traditional dishes include fried chicken (although the chicken must be presented with a head, tail, and feet to symbolize completeness) and  a whole steamed fish. The word for fish is "yu" and sounds like the words for "wish" and "abundance,"  symbolizing the wish for abundance for the coming year.

Vegetarian dishes are also common - here are some popular ingredients with their symbolic meanings:

  • Lotus seed - signify having many male offspring
  • Ginkgo nut -  silver ingots
  • Black moss seaweed - abundant wealth
  • Dried bean curd - fulfillment of wealth and happiness
  • Bamboo shoots - the word sounds like "wishing that everything would be well"
And there is also the dumpling. The classic dumpling, Jiaozi*,   is served right after midnight with only some garlic-soy sauce. The name "jiaozi" means money - and usually a coin is hidden in one of the dumplings. The person who finds or bites the coin will be the luckiest one in the new year.

This discussion made us curious which Chinese cookbooks were the most popular among the Eat Your Book community. Here are the top five, with the number of members who own it:
But if you own something not on this list - don't worry - we have over 50 books indexed in this category and over 260 for Asia overall. So if you're looking for a recipe, the easiest place to start is right here.

 

*You can find an online recipe for these dumplings at Fine Cooking, complete with video on how to make it.

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