Culture: Chinese Lunar New Year!

Happy Chinese Lunar New Year! I Stir-Fried Pressed Tofu for a very simple Chinese New Year Eve Dinner. What! No fish!? Yes, no fish 😦 I didn’t have time to really cook. But I DID eat dumplings the day before and sticky rice cake. 🙂 These recipes may be posted sometime!

Chinese culture background! On Chinese Lunar New Year’s Eve in China, nobody goes to work or school. Most people have 7 days off. Anyways, this day the whole family gets together like in USA Thanksgiving. Unlike USA Thanksgiving, China has more than a billion people so the entire country’s planes, trains, and automobiles are super crowded and overflowing with people and traffic all over the airports, train stations, and roads is found in every village, town, and city of the whole country. Every year, people DIE because of how crowded it is! It is highly recommended to not travel to China during the New Year season, but still it can be a fun experience celebrating the holidays. I haven’t been, though. (I wish we in USA had at least ONE DAY off of work and school!)
So when the whole family is together, they eat a big feast called the 年夜饭 (nian ye fan, “nyehn yeh fun”, literally “year night rice”) containing tons of food. Everyone eats a ton of food, then eats another ton of food, then eats another ton of food, and then they are really full but eat another ton of food. (like USA Thanksgiving again!)
Many dishes are eaten in this feast. One of the most important (throughout China) is a whole fish because 年年有鱼 (every year have fish) sounds identical to 年年有余 (every year have surplus money). There are tons of foods in this feast, but fish is the most famous. In some parts of China, only the one side of the fish is eaten because it is bad luck to flip it over. The other side is eaten the next day. In other parts of China, it is also considered bad luck because if there is no leftover fish, there will be no leftover money. The whole fish could be prepared many ways, including steaming, pan frying, and braising. The most popular is clear-steamed fish (清蒸鱼) which is just a whole fish, cleaned and guts removed, steamed with ginger, green onions to get rid of fishy flavor, then have soy sauce and hot oil poured over. It’s the best with fish killed the same day, and frozen fish are not good for this process. Also, it is not recommended with fillets, just whole fish. The problem is that I am really bad at eating whole fish 😦 because there are ALWAYS tiny sharp bones in the flesh and they get stuck in my throat, so I have to swallow large spoonfuls of rice to push it down and it always still feels like it’s there, ugh. Anyways, my parents always eat most of the fish.
Other dishes that must be eaten are boiled dumplings (饺子) in the North and sticky rice cake (年糕) in the South. Dumplings are made of a flour-water dough surrounding a meat and vegetable filling, then boiled and served with dipping black vinegar. Sticky rice cakes have both stir-fried savory kinds as well as sweet kinds which are popular in Guangdong and Hong Kong. I love all of these so I usually eat both dumplings and sticky rice cake in the Chinese New Year season. There are a lot of other dishes but these are the most famous.
Unlike USA Thanksgiving, the Chinese people watch the Spring Festival Night Gala on TV. Every year, almost the entire population of China watches this show. It has lots of singing and dancing with LOTS of bright colors and outfits especially red (the lucky color in East Asian cultures), and definitely the year’s Chinese zodiac animal (this year is sheep/goat/lamb/ram/ewe/antelope). It also has comedy skits and all sorts of performances. My Chinese isn’t good enough to understand a lot of what people are saying though. Also it airs like during midnight time in USA, so it isn’t easy to watch live. Most Chinese-Americans watch it later through Chinese streaming sites.
So, while the entire family watches the TV, they eat tons of food and chat. Then, once it turns midnight (China has only one time zone, so it’s the exact same for the whole country!), people go out to set lots of firecrackers and fireworks and it’s a super chaotic party! Actually, many cities have outlawed fireworks (but people still use them anyways!) because of danger. I read that sometimes they are misfired and destroy buildings! I don’t like loud exploding things so I would be terrified in China at this time, LOL.
On Chinese New Year’s Day, the adults give children money called 压岁钱 (ya sui qian, pronounced “yah sway tschyehn”). It is put in a red envelope, so it’s often called “red package” (红包) in Mandarin. All of the children look forward to this, hehe.
During the Chinese New Year season, all relatives and friends are visited day by day. People visit others’ houses, drink tea, eat snacks and food, then repeat. It’s a relaxing time of the year.

Anyways, just some basic information on Chinese New Year! Hope you enjoyed 🙂


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