Eating your way to abundance and prosperity for Chinese New Year
By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
Did you know that according to Chinese custom, you’re not supposed to stick your chopsticks vertically into your bowl of rice? The belief is that it looks like the incense sticks in food dishes for the departed.
In Chinese culture, it is also a tradition for families to clean and sweep the house before the Lunar New Year as it symbolically sweeps out any bad luck or misfortunes out of the house. Throughout the celebration, however, one must refrain from sweeping the house for the first three days.
An auspicious occasion, Chinese New Year is a lively affair and even the decorations put out during the celebration are vibrant and exuberant.
Red banners, lanterns and trimmings are often placed near doorways and windows to scare away Chinese mythical monsters known as ‘Nian”.
Besides the decorations and customs, another thing that is important in celebrating Chinese New Year is the food.
During the celebration, it is a norm for family members to gather together for a dinner reunion serving mouth-watering and scrumptious dishes.
In conjunction with Chinese New Year, MakanMakan was back again, this time bringing Chinese food culture to the table.
Organised by Yayasan Perpaduan Sarawak (YPS) and the Sarawak Development Institute (SDI), together with the Champions, the MakanMakan Chinese New Year was held on February 19th at the Banquet, 3rd Exchange Commercial Centre.
During the MakanMakan experience, guests were treated to a cultural experience of Chinese dishes and table manners.
For instance, the youngest at the table must always serve food and tea from the eldest to the youngest, including themselves throughout the whole meal session. Aside from that, the diners must always allow the elders to eat first or wait for the elders to say ‘Let’s eat’ before they start eating.
For starters, the guests at MakanMakan Chinese New Year were first served ‘Yu Sheng’, also known as ‘Yee Sang’, which is a raw fish salad.
Consisting of strips of raw fish mixed with variety of shredded vegetables and sauces and condiments, yee sang symbolises abundance and prosperity.
Half the fun about the yee sang is how it involves everybody’s participation in its preparation. Diners have to stand up as they mix and toss the ingredients as high as they dare into the air with their chopsticks, all the while saying their wishes out loud or simply saying “lo hei, lo hei” or “Scoop it up, scoop it up!” in Mandarin.
Also in the menu was roasted duck. Duck represents fidelity in Chinese culture which is why it is often served during wedding banquets.
Asides from that, fish was also served together with the head and tail intact to symbolise prosperity and a good start and finish to the coming year.
Fish is ‘Yu’ in Chinese which sounds similar to the Chinese word for wish and abundance, making fish a customary dish to be served during Chinese New Year.
But when eating fish, it is believed that one should never turn the fish over to eat the other side; the fish symbolizes a boat and by turning it over, one would be capsizing the boat, and casting away one’s livelihood.
Instead, remove the backbone gently with a pair of chopsticks or any other eating utensils.
Another dish served was stir fried leek with mixed vegetables. Leek in Chinese is ‘Suan Miao’; the sound ‘Suan’ means calculating money so serving leek refers to the accumulation of wealth.
Finally, the meal ended with noodles which is said to represent longevity in Chinese culture. Often served during birthday celebrations, the noodles should never be cut or split when cooked and must be eaten without biting through the strands. Instead, one must slurp it to the end.
MakanMakan is a cultural dinner experience aimed at learning and sharing the diverse food culture, practices and traditions of the many ethnic groups within Malaysia.
It seeks to provide a communal platform which invites everyone from all walks of life to learn and understand more about one another’s food culture, practices and traditions.
The collaborative partner on the MakanMakan Chinese New Year project were the Federation of the Chinese Associations Sarawak, Supermain and The Banquet.
The next MakanMakan experience will be MakanMakan Gawai which is scheduled to be held in June 2016.
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