February 8, 2011

Eat Your Lucky Charms

The Chinese language makes it easy to play with words and symbols. Homonyms (words sharing same pronunciation with different meanings) are common in folklore and stories.

In celebrations of food around the New Year, many dishes and ingredients sound like Good Luck words and phrases, and foods become symbolic in eating and offering. Food offerings are a prayer to ancestors or the Jade Emperor and The Kitchen God.

New Year food presentations are part of the offerings to the Gods, so presenting a ‘whole’ chicken with its head, tail and feet symbolises completeness.
 Fresh bean curd / tofu is not included as it is white and unlucky for New Year, as the colour signifies death and misfortune.
 Fresh fruits symbolise life and new beginnings. 
Sugared fruits sweeten the upcoming year.

Sweets and fruits are served on a round tray, resembling togetherness, and it is called the ‘Tray of Togetherness’. Sweets offered on the tray add up to 8, because eight is a lucky number and symbolises fortune. 
A coin might be hidden in one dumpling, and the person who  finds it will be showered with good fortune and wealth.

Here are some food homonyms for Chinese New Year Celebrations. Enjoy and good wishes to an abundant and radiant New Year!

Abalone (sea snail; 鳆; fù) –  good fortune
Apple (苹果; píngguǒ) – wisdom, peace
Apricot, dried (杏脯; xìngfǔ) – gold, wealth
Arrowhead (bot.: Sagittaria sagittifolia; 慈菇; cí gū) – benevolence
Arrowroot (bot.: Maranta arundinacea; 竹芋) – good life
Bamboo fungus (stinkhorn fungus; 竹笙, zhúshēng)
Bamboo pith (竹荪; zhúsūn) – long life
Bamboo shoots (竹笋尖; zhú sǔn jiān) – wealth (sounds like “wishing everything would be well” – xǔyuànchí), new start
Banana (香蕉; xiāngjiāo), on altar, offering – wish for education, brilliance at work/ school
Bean curd, dried/ tofu, dried (豆腐, dòu fǔ)- fulfillment of wealth and happiness (dried tofu is not white)
Bean curd sticks (腐竹; fǔ zhú) – blessing the house

Bean sprouts (豆芽; dòu yá – “bean sprout/germ” 芽菜; yá cài – “sprout vegetable” or 银芽; yín yá – “silver sprouts”) – ‘to your heart’s content’, positive start into the new year
Black moss (hair moss, hair weed), fat choy (髮菜; fàcài; hair-like cyanobacteria) – wealth
Cabbage, Chinese (pak choy, 白菜) – 100 types of prosperity luck
Cabbage, stuffed packages – wealth (shape symbolises ingot)
Calms (scallops; 扇贝; shànbèi) – opening of new horizons
calm roll (干贝; gānbèi) – gold, wealth
Carrots (胡蘿蔔; hú luóbo; or 紅蘿蔔; hóng luóbo), red colour- good luck
Cashew (腰果, yāoguǒ)- gold, money (shape symbolises ancient gold bar)
Chicken (鸡肉; jīròu) – prosperity, togetherness of the family, joy (chicken with head, tail and feet symbolises completeness)
Chinese garlic chives (韭菜, jiǔcài) – everlasting, eternity, long life
Coconut, nut (椰子; yēzi), flesh (椰肉; yēròu), juice/milk (椰汁; yēzhī) – promoting togetherness
Daylily buds, golden lily buds (金针; jīnzhēn; called “golden needles”) – wealth
Duck (鸭肉, yāròu) – fertility
Dumplings,various – jiaozi, yuanxiao/ tangyuan/ tangtuan dumplings
Egg (蛋, dàn) – fertility
Egg roll (蛋皮春卷, dàn pí chūn juǎn) – money, wealth, gold
Fa Gao (发糕; fāgāo) the steamed “Prosperity Cake”; the sound “fa” means “to raise/generate” or “be prosperous”
Fish –  魚 (yú), meaning “fish”, has same pronunciation as 餘, “remain or surplus”, ‘having leftovers of money’, increase in prosperity
Fish ball (鱼蛋; yúdàn) – reunion
Golden lilly buds, Daylily (Hemerocallis; 金针; jīnzhēn) – wealth

Gingko nuts ( 銀杏; yín xìng; or 白果, bái guǒ)- hope for silver, wealth (shape represents silver yuanbao/ ingot)
Dried unbroken noodles symbolise long life – Glass noodles, Chinese vermicelli, cellophane noodle, noodle threads (粉絲; fěn sī; “bean threads “, mung bean thread) – silver chain
Grapes (葡萄, pútaó) – wealth, abundance, fertility, many descendants, family harmony
Jiaozi- Dumplings (jiǎozi, 饺子) – wealth (shape is a yuanbao ingot, word shares pronunciation 角子 (jiǎozi) – a small old jiao coin; togetherness, heavenly blessing

Jujube (枣; zǎo, candied jujube: 蜜枣; mìzǎo) – wealth, prosperity, fertility
Kumquat (金橘; jīn jú) – gold, hence fortune, wealthLettuce (生菜; shēngcài) – prosperity
Lettuce roll, food rolled into lettuce – having a child soon
Longan (龙眼) – many good son
Lotus seeds/ -nuts/ -beans (蓮子; lián zĭ), crystallized (蓮子糖; lián zĭ táng)- a full wallet, many offspring
Lychee (荔枝; lìzhī) – close family ties
Maize (玉米; yùmǐ) – growth
Mandarin (瓯柑; ōugān) – gold, wealth
Meat ball (肉丸; ròuwán)- reunion
Melon (瓜; guā) – family unity
, Melon, candied – growth, good health
Mixed vegetable (什锦蔬菜; shíjǐn shūcài) – family harmony
Muer mushroom, Black fungus, Three ear fungus, Wood ear (木耳; mù ěr) – longevity
Noodles (面条; miàntiáo) uncut – long life
Onion (洋葱; yángcōng) – cleverness
Orange (柑橘; gānjú) – wealth, good fortune, gold
Oyster (牡蠣; mǔlì) – receptivity to good fortune, good business. 
Oyster, dried (ho xi) – all good things, good luck
Peach – immortality
 Peach, pair of (桃; táo) – wealth, abundance, long healthy life, great fortune for many generations

Peanuts (花生; huāshēng) – health, long life, birth of prosperity, continuous growth, multiplication in good fortune, stability
Pineapple (凤梨; fènglí) – wealth, luck, excellent fortune
Pomegranate (石榴; shíliu) – many offsprings
Pomelo (柚子; yòuzi) – abundance, prosperity, having children, good health, family unity
Pork (猪肉; zhūròu) – strength, wealth, abundant blessing
Prawn (大虾; dàxiā) – liveliness
Pumpkin (南瓜; nánguā) – prosperity, abundance, descendant’s luck, illustrious children, enchantment, fruit draws earth energy
Rice (米饭; mǐfàn) – fertility, luck, wealth, rice symbolizes a link between Heaven and Earth

Nian gao, (Chinese: 年糕; pinyin: nián’gāo) Sticky (Rice) cake, Chinese new year’s cake. It is considered good luck to eat nian gao because it increases prosperity every year. The New Year greeting ‘Nian Nian Gao Sheng’ (年年高升 niánnián gāoshēng)wishes “advance higher and prosperity step by step.”
 Sticky rice – cohering of family
, and rice is one of the Twelve Symbols of Sovereignty
Roseapple (Syzygium jambos; 蒲桃; pú táo) – calmness, peace of mind, no fighting
Seaweed, especially black moss, Fat Choy, (in Chinese: 髮菜; pinyin: fàcài; literal meaning: hair vegetable). Two syllables of Fat Choy in Cantonese sound like a Cantonese Chinese New Year greeting “Gung1 hei2 faat3 choi4” (恭喜发财) meaning “congratulations and be prosperous”; good luck, exceeding wealth.
Seeds (籽 zǐ)- lotus seeds, watermelon seeds, etc. – having a large number of children
Shitake, Black mushroom (冬菇; dōnggū) – longevity, sizing opportunities
Shrimp (小虾; xiǎoxiā) – happiness and good fortune
Slender Noodle (細粉; xì fě) – see glass noodle
Snowpeas (荷蘭豆; hélándòu) – unity
Spring roll (春卷; chūnjuǎn) – wealth (shape represents a gold bar)
Sweet corn (甜玉米; tián yùmǐ) – growth, increase
Sweets, (糖食; tángshí, 糖果;tángguǒ) rice cake (年糕; nián’gāo) – safety, good fortune and ‘sweeten’ the new year
Tangerine (橘; jú) – luck
Tangtuan (湯團, tāngtuán,”round dumplings in soup”), sweet dumplings – togetherness, reunion
Tangyuan ( 湯圓 ,tāngyuán, “round balls in soup”), sweet dumplings – togetherness, reunion
Tofu, dried (豆腐干; dòufǔgān) – fulfillment of wealth and happiness, blessing the houses (dried tofu is not white)
Tofu, fried (炸豆腐; zhá dòufǔ) – gold, hence wealth
Turnip cake (萝卜糕; luóbo gāo) – good omen
Vegetable, green (绿叶菜; lǜyècài) – close family ties 
vegetable/ tofu (dried) – harmony, happiness and prosperity

Walnut (核桃仁; hétàorén) – happiness of the entire family
Water chestnut (荸薺; bíqí) – unity
Winter noodel (冬粉, dōng fěn) – see glass noodle
Yuanxiao, sweet dumpling (元宵; yuánxiāo) – togetherness, reunion

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Cora Wen

CORA WEN grew up in a traditional Chinese family in Asia and the West, and took refuge in the Buddha as a teen. An international childhood growing up in Hong Kong and Indonesia, Switzerland, Australia and the US, has instilled the spirit of a travelling adventurer. After sowing wild oats in New York City in the 70s with rockers Deborah Harry and Patti Smith, she had careers in fashion and banking. Since 1994, Cora has taught Yoga, mentored by America’s most influential Yoga lineage. She has been dedicated since 2002 in support of indigenous culture for exiled Tibetan people and land mine victims. Find her at www.corawen.com.