The Meaning Behind Chinese New Year Favourites

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By Samantha David

With Chinese New Year, you can expect virtually everything to have a hidden meaning tagged to it, whether it’s for luck, health or love. Food is no exception, so before you tuck into some amazing sweet and savoury treats, here are some interesting did-you-knows to take home with you.

Yusheng

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Credits: VLV


It’s hard to pinpoint the exact origins of this colourful salad creation – some say it was made in Singapore and some that it was created in Malaysia – but there’s no denying its significance at every CNY get-together with friends and family.

Yusheng features a mish-mash of ingredients, ranging from shredded carrots and zesty pomelo chunks to sesame oil and raw fish (such as salmon). Each element represents something positive – it usually has something to do with luck – and a phrase is used with every single component that’s added to the salad. After that, everyone reaches in with a pair of chopsticks and attempts to toss the salad as high as they can. It’s a messy affair, but it’s believed that the higher you toss the salad, the ‘better’ your year will be.

Pineapple tarts

Credits: The Little Teochew


Are you a fan of the open-face version or do you like them rolled up with glorious jam-filled centres? Regardless of your preference, the meaning behind these sinful, buttery morsels is the same: the Hokkien word for them is ‘ong lai’, which means ‘prosperity has arrived’. Now, if only we could actually get these addictive snacks to bring us some fortune, we wouldn’t regret polishing off the entire box in one sitting…

Nian gao

Credit: Marriott Singapore Tang Plaza – Wan Hao Chinese Restaurant


Made from glutinous rice, many know this sweet-and-sticky delight as ‘year cake’ or ‘Chinese New Year cake’ and it has different meanings.

To some, the word ‘gao’, which translates as ‘high’ in Mandarin, points to success and ‘reaching new highs’ in the New Year. In other, more unusual, stories, nian gao is seen as an offering to the Kitchen God – an important figure in Chinese mythology – and the purpose of presenting him this gooey snack is to keep his mouth stuck so he won’t be able to say anything negative about the family to the God of all Gods (also known as Yu Huang Da Di or the Jade Emperor).

Bak kwa

Credit: Peng Guan


Offered by numerous well-known brands in Singapore, bak kwa is essentially dried meat that’s very similar to American beef jerky. It’s square in shape, thinly sliced and comes available in all sorts of varieties: from beef to pork and even spiced meat.

To many, because bak kwa is red in colour, it signifies luck and a steady future for anyone who consumes it. As fantastic as all that sounds, we certainly wouldn’t go overboard when indulging in these salty-sweet bites – they can be quite decadent!

Mandarin oranges


Aside from the fact that oranges in general are loaded with vitamin C and are excellent for you, these fruits are often used during greetings at family gatherings. Younger folk usually offer those who are older a pair of oranges while saying a Chinese phrase (again, it usually has to do with luck and abundance). In exchange, they are usually given a red packet.

On top of all that, the Cantonese pronunciation of this fruit sounds very similar to the word gold and, to some, oranges are bright and look like the sun, hence they are associated with the positive yang principle.

 

Looking for more Chinese New Year inspiration? Click here to find out where to have a sumptuous Chinese New Year Feast.

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