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.
Good Wishes for a
Radiant & Abundant New Year!
Here are some food homonyms for Chinese New Year Celebrations.
Abalone (sea snail; 鳆; fù) – good fortune
Apple (苹果; píngguǒ) – wisdom, peace
Apricot, dried (杏脯; xìngfǔ) – gold, wealth
Arrowhead (慈菇; cí gū) – benevolence
Arrowroot (竹芋) – good life
Bamboo fungus (竹笙, zhúshēng)
Bamboo pith (竹荪; zhúsūn) – long life
Bamboo shoots (竹笋尖; zhú sǔn jiān) – wealth (sounds like “wishing everything 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) – 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 like ancient gold ingot)
Chicken (鸡肉; jīròu) – prosperity, togetherness of the family, joy (chicken with head, tail and feet are 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, “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”, sound “fa” means “to raise/generate” or “be prosperous”
Fish – 魚 (yú), meaning “fish”, same pronunciation as 餘, “remain or surplus”, ‘having extra money’, increase in prosperity
Fish ball (鱼蛋; yúdàn) – reunion
Golden lily buds, Daylily (金针; jīnzhēn) – wealth
Gingko nuts ( 銀杏; yín xìng; or 白果, bái guǒ)- hope for silver, wealth (shape is silver yuanbao/ ingot)
Dried unbroken noodles is 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 jiǎozi shares sound of 角子 (jiǎozi), 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, wealth
Lettuce (生菜; shēngcài) – prosperity
Lettuce roll, food rolled into lettuce – having a child soon
Longan (龙眼) – many good sons
Lotus seeds/ -nuts/ -beans (蓮子; lián zĭ), crystallized (蓮子糖; lián zĭ táng)- prosperity, 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 , Candied Melon – 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 is 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 for prosperity. 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 (蒲桃; pú táo) – calmness, peace of mind, no fighting
Seaweed, especially black moss, Fat Choy, (in Chinese: 髮菜; fàcài; hair vegetable). Two syllables of Fat Choy in Cantonese sound like a Cantonese 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, seizing 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 is 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 entire family
Water chestnut (荸薺; bíqí) – unity
Winter noodle (冬粉, dōng fěn) – see glass noodle
Yuanxiao, sweet dumpling (元宵; yuánxiāo) – togetherness, reunion
Love this! A feast of symbolism – what a beautiful way to embrace a New Year’s meal.
thanks cora this is such a great post. I love reading your articles for enlightenment on chinese culture and influences that have similar concepts/parallels to yoga. Love your site.
I love this! I’m going to print it out. I love what each of my favorite food celebrate! Oysters, prawns, lettuce and egg rolls to name a few!!
I’m really happy to have finally made it to your blog. I love your tweets! I’m working on a travel and food blog (besides my Zen Mama blog)I’d love to reference you in a future post if that’s ok.
I like this web site very much, Its a rattling nice post to read and obtain info . “The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.” by Confucius.
This is fabulous. I will print this out.
Love your timelines on FB!
Peace and Harmony,
Wow Cora! What a comprehensive guide. I certainly learned a thing or ten even though I’m Chinese. My fav. tradition (other than the money pockets) is the sweet tray. I could eat those red melon seed until my fingers are stained.
Happy New Year Everyone!
Don’t clean you home or wash your hair on the Jan. 23rd as you will sweep/wash away the good fortune. I’m also a fan of this tradition. 🙂