Chinese New Year, also called Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, is the most important of all traditional Chinese festivals and celebrated by every Chinese community worldwide. It is a time for family reunion and to wish each other happiness, good health, peace and prosperity. Each year is symbolised by an animal zodiac sign, in 12-year cycles, in the order of Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.
According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2016 is the year of the monkey. People born in the year of the monkey are believed to be quick-witted and smart.
The celebration starts a few days before the New Year and ends on the 15th day (the Lantern Festival). During the festive season, windows and doors are decorated with red scrolls (shown below right).
People wear new clothes to signify the New Year, usually in red because it is believed to be a colour of good luck, joy and prosperity. Red packets with money are given to children and young people by married and older adults, while small gifts, usually food or sweets, are given to friends. Traditionally, red lanterns are displayed, with lion dances and firecrackers to drive away evil spirits and symbolise joy for the New Year.
Chinese New Year is a time for gatherings of family and friends and these often based around meals. Dishes with names which symbolise good luck and fortune are eaten. For example, the pronunciation of ‘fish’ is similar to ‘abundance’ in Chinese; therefore, eating fish is seen to bring about abundance in the coming year. Other traditional dishes include black moss with dried oysters, often accompanied with lettuce, which altogether means ‘growing business and plentiful fortune’. Tangerine sounds like the Chinese word for ‘luck’ and orange sounds like the Chinese word for ‘wealth’ and are often eaten or displayed during the Chinese New Year celebrations to bring happiness and prosperity. Furthermore, ‘sweet boxes’ called ‘boxes of completeness’ are placed at home for family and friends to symbolise a sweet new year. These contain melon seeds (for wealth) and sugared lotus seeds (for fertility) as well as sweets and chocolate coins for joy and prosperity. The Lantern Festival marks the end of the Chinese New Year, and glutinous rice balls are eaten to signify family unity.
Top tips for cooking healthier Chinese cuisine:
Home cooked Chinese meals can be cheaper and healthier than ordering a takeaway. A carefully made homemade version of a favourite dish could contain fewer calories and less fat and salt than one from a local takeaway.
Here are a few top tips for cooking a healthy Chinese meal at home:
- Why not try cooking a stir-fry. You only need to use a small amount of oil when cooking stir-fries. Invest in a wok or non-stick frying pan so you don’t need to add as much oil. For a healthy stir-fry try adding lean meat or fish and lots of seasonal vegetables.
- You don't have to be vegetarian to embrace tofu as an ingredient. Made from soya beans, it's not only high in protein, but it also absorbs all the flavours from the spices and marinades, making it a tasty addition to a Chinese meal.
- Making your own broth soup can be simple, healthy and tasty. All you need is a low salt stock, vegetables, lean source of protein (e.g skinless chicken breast), herbs and spices.
- Why not try making your own sauce so you can control the amount of salt and sugar that you put into it. Fish, oyster and soy sauce can be high in salt, so use sparingly or opt for a lower salt version. Instead of adding salt why not try using a traditional Chinese flavour enhancer such as dried mushrooms, shrimps, clams, herbs and spices to deepen flavours and enrich sauces and stocks.
- Opt for brown rice instead of white rice and include lots of vegetables to increase your dietary fibre and vitamin and mineral intakes.
- Make sure your portion sizes are not too large.
Top tips for ordering healthier Chinese takeaway or restaurant meals:
Although traditional Chinese food can be healthy, some recipes have been adapted to suit local taste buds, meaning some Chinese dishes can be high in salt, sugar and/or fat.
Here are some top tips to help you make healthy choices when you’re ordering Chinese cuisine.
- Anything that’s battered or described on the menu as "crispy" generally means it’s deep fried and can therefore be high in fat. Also watch out for starters such as prawn crackers, prawn toast and spring rolls because these are usually deep fried.
- Instead of ordering fried rice or noodles try opting for boiled or steamed varieties.
- Steamed, grilled or boiled dishes are the best option, but stir-fries can also be lower in fat and often include lots of vegetables.
- Try selecting dishes which contain lean cuts of meat, fish or tofu to help reduce your saturated fat intake.
- Know when enough is enough. Don’t be afraid to leave what you don’t want. If you have a smaller appetite, ask for a smaller portion.
- Select desserts which have plenty of fruit, such as a fresh fruit platter, but avoid desserts which are deep fried, such as banana or apple fritters.
- Instead of ordering an alcoholic drink which contain calories and can contribute to weight gain, try drinking Chinese tea or water which will help to keep you hydrated.
恭喜發財 (pronounced as ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’ in Mandarin or ‘Gong Hei Fat Choy’ in Cantonese, meaning Wishing you lots of fortune for the New Year