The Symbolism Behind Popular CNY Reunion Dinner Dishes

One of the best things about being Malaysian is that we don’t really have to deal with withdrawal symptoms from New Year celebrations. Why? Because just a short while after returning to the humdrum of school and workweeks, Chinese New Year comes along! Whether we celebrate or not, together as Malaysians we look forward to house visits, catching up with friends, tasty food, and ang paos from our respected elders.

In this Year of the Dog, join us at Ben’s Independent Grocer for A B.I.G. Reunion to stock up on everything you need for the festivities. One of the most highly anticipated aspects of CNY is the reunion dinner, so we’ve put together some interesting facts about the traditions and symbolism behind your favourite reunion dinner dishes.

1. Yee Sang

Sharing a plate ofYee Sang is not only delicious, but a really fun experience! Friends and family members gather around a table to toss or ‘loh’ the multi-coloured contents (a mix of shredded raw fish, pickled vegetables, condiments and sauces), with higher tosses believed to reap better luck. Also known as ‘Yu Sheng’, this dish stands as a symbol of prosperity and good health in Chinese tradition.

2. Steamed Fish

Having a whole steamed fish dish at the table is mandatory at any Chinese New Year reunion dinner. Typically steamed with ginger and light soya sauce, the significance of preparing this dish is cleverly tied to an old Chinese saying which goes “nian nian you yu”, meaning “May the year bring prosperity”. In the earlier phrase, the Chinese character for prosperity, ‘yu’, also carries the meaning ‘fish’! If you’re not Chinese, yu probably didn’t know that. It is also common practice not to finish the entire dish, so that the leftovers symbolise ‘always having more than you need’.

3. Emperor Herbal Chicken

Believe it or not, the name of this dish is inspired by the actual delicacy that was prepared for an Emperor who reigned during the days of old Imperial China. Back then, it was believed that in order for the Emperor to govern effectively, a specific and strictly monitored diet was required to ensure a state of optimum mental and physical health. Using ingredients that have roots inTraditional Chinese Medicine, this dish allegedly serves as an energy-booster to defeat mental exhaustion from over-working or having insufficient sleep. As those are very familiar symptoms of the modern working adult, it’s no surprise that this tradition carries on to this day.

4. Stir Fried Leeks

While some consider the leek an everyday vegetable, Chinese tradition holds this dish in high regard as it is believed to bring wealth and good fortune. Similar to steamed fish, the meaning behind this dish is also derived from semantic symbolism. The word for “leeks”, pronounced “suan” in Mandarin sounds very similar to the word for ‘calculating’. In Chinese lore, this implies the ability to count an abundance of money. Commonly prepared with tofu and/or non-leafy vegetables, we hope consuming this dish will bring you the good fortune it promises.

5. Braised Mushrooms and Abalone

Simple, elegant, and never served alone, abalone is always prepared with braised mushrooms which complement its distinctive texture and taste. Signifying luxury, abundance, and auspiciousness, this dish is not only prominent at CNY reunion dinners but is also commonly served at corporate dinners and Chinese wedding receptions. Pace yourself during the reunion dinner because this is a dish you will not want to miss!

We hope we’ve provided some food for thought regardless of your background or cultural beliefs. For those who will be at a reunion dinner, take a moment to contemplate the history and tradition that lies behind every bite you take, and we’re confident it’ll bring a whole new level of satisfaction to your meal.

Join us for A B.I.G. Reunion at our grocer and stock up on all things CNY! More info at our event page here . Also check out our CNY Catalog to see huat’s in store here Wishing you a very Happy Chinese New Year!

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