Hope you are doing well!
In your last letter, you asked me about the best food in China. Well, let me tell you, the best is that steamed yellow croaker my mom used to cook for our Chinese New Year's Eve dinner. Speaking of this annual banquet, it's like a flavor-packed trip down our own private memory lane, hitting all the right spots in our bellies and hearts.
We Chinese people follow the rhythm of the seasons in our diet. Each traditional festival like the Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival and Double Ninth Festival, comes with its own set of delicious dishes. Among them, the Spring Festival stands out with its New Year's Eve dinner being the grandest feast of the year.
So, how do we prepare such a feast? The key is variety! Having more than 10 dishes symbolizes abundance for the whole year.
Just like how a Christmas dinner features turkey, dumplings are a must in north Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner. Their shape resembles ancient Chinese silver ingots, symbolizing wealth and prosperity for a new year. People in southern regions prefer to eat glutinous rice cakes and rice balls. In Chinese, glutinous rice cake, "nian gao”, sounds the same as “rising every year”; and glutinous rice balls, "tang yuan", sounds like “tuan yuan”, symbolizing wishes for "family reunion". In some places, chicken, “ji”, is a must for the lunar New Year’s Eve dinner because it sounds the same as the Chinese character for “auspicious”; so is lettuce, “sheng cai”, for it sounds the same as "bringing wealth”. In my hometown Shantou—a coastal city—we must have fish, “yu”, for the wish of “nian nian you yu”, or “having more than enough each and every year”.
You see, each region in China has its own customs for the lunar New Year's Eve dinner, but they're all singing the same tune of good vibes and good fortune.
This meal isn't just about relishing the flavors of home; it's also a spiritual reunion with loved ones, a ritual of bidding farewell to the old and welcoming the new, and it carries the cultural intricacies embedded in Chinese cuisine. Remember what I said in my last letter? On the Chinese New Year's Eve, no distance is too far to stop us from making it back home to share this cozy, heartwarming dinner with our family.
So, who are you planning to share your New Year's Eve dinner with? What's on the menu? Don't forget to show me your bite of Spring Festival.