Bring In The Luck: The 8 Elements Of A Chinese New Year Table
Majority of Pinoys may not have a drop of Chinese blood in them, but we make a big to-do over Chinese New Year anyway. We head to Binondo to watch the dragon dance, book a table at President’s, or prepare pansit at home. We do like to jump on every excuse to celebrate: dress up the kids for Halloween in October, and invite friends over for Thanksgiving in November. You can say we’re known for two things: one, our love for sawsawan, and two, our penchant for pakikisawsaw—in other people’s affairs and other people’s celebrations.
The Chinese New Year offers three reasons why we go out of our way to indulge in its rituals: it is an excuse to eat Chinese food, it is an excuse to whip up a feast, and when we have the right elements, it is believed to bring good fortune. Who doesn’t want that? Obviously we all do. So we asked our Chinese friends for tips and did a bit of research to prepare this guide, a starter-kit if you will, for an on-point CNY dinner table. We arrived at eight (lucky number, we know) essential elements for a complete, hopefully auspicious feast to bring in a hopefully auspicious year.
1. Lots of red. The color is believed to signify prosperity, so decorate your table with an abundance of red. Begin with the tablecloth and work your way up to the paper lanterns.
2. Dumplings. Because they appear to be boat-like nuggets, the form of ancient Chinese gold ingots, dumplings have come to symbolize wealth. Some Chinese families put coins on six of their dumplings—six being a lucky number to some—or even go as far as slipping in a coin inside one dumpling; the person who happens on the coin with his or her bite will receive good fortune. But because it is hard to tell what kind of bacteria has embedded itself in your coin of choice, we don’t encourage this practice. You might end up swallowing the coin, which would be unfortunate.
3. Noodles. Egg noodles, vermicelli, canton, bihon, what have you. Long noodles signify long life so no need to snip them short.
4. Fish. A whole one. Which means head and tail intact. It signifies that a current of good vibes will run throughout your year, top to bottom, beginning to end. But why fish? The Chinese word for it sounds like surplus, or abundance. And in the Chinese culture, even if it only rings like luck, it’s a call to the gods to deliver luck.
5. Vegetables. Which is pretty much universally recognized to promote well-being but for the Chinese it signifies prosperity, especially water chestnuts, carrots, bamboo shoots and mushrooms.
6. Mandarin oranges are believed to bring the most luck. “That’s because the Chinese word for mandarin—kam—sounds similar to the word for gold,” says extracrispy.com. “So, having mandarin oranges around the home at New Year is said to bring riches into your life.”
7. Tikoy. Its round shape is believed to be auspicious, signifying wealth. Made from glutinous rice, its sticky nature represents closer ties within the family.
8. Chicken. Like the fish dish, this needs to be laid out on your table whole. “With head and feet,” says the publicist Tedrick Yau who consulted his beloved grandmother. Seeing an animal’s head on the dinner table may have gone out of favor for some, but Chinese tradition says having the chicken’s parts complete and intact represents, as per Yau, “joy and togetherness for the family.”
To help us visualize our CNY feast, the good people at Lung Hin at the Marco Polo Ortigas, one of our go-tos when we have a craving for Chinese food, very generously extended a hand. Its Chinese Executive Chef, Terry Lai, a Hongkong native, even added a few welcome touches: lobster with glutinous rice to symbolize happiness, marinated pork knuckles for a successful business, and in place of noodles, he said braised vegetables should be a fitting substitute: both signify longevity. The Chinese New Year cake welcomes bigger opportunities, and his poached Hongkong sesame chicken is a veritable prayer for all our wishes to come true. If one is more keen to have one’s Lunar New Year dinner at Lung Hin, Chef Terry suggests to begin with what they call the Prosperity Toss with Salmon Yu Sheng, where members of the family vigorously toss a salad on an entire table—a rousing activity believed to bring the group closer. Lung Hin’s special New Year dishes and set menu are available until February 21.
Photos by Deiniel
Noodles photo by Paulo Valenzuela
Noodles styling by Tina Concepcion Diaz