How to feast this Chinese New Year?

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Australia is not only flush with Valentine’s red this week, the country also seems draped in lucky red that happens to mark the Lunar Year for the Chinese, which falls on 16th Feb 2018. Although the public holiday is only seven days long – from the Lunar New Year’s Eve to the sixth day of the first Lunar month, among the Chinese people the festival lasts for about 15 days, from the Lunar New Year’s Eve to the 15th day of the first Lunar month which marks the onset of the Lantern Festival.   Since time immemorial, family has been the emphasis of the Chinese society, and this can be seen by the significance given to the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner – also called the Reunion Dinner. This get-together feast with the family is highly regarded in the tradition and considered very important to the Chinese. All the family members are to return home, and for some reason, if they aren’t able to, the rest of the family must ensure they leave the respective spot empty and place a set of utensils to signify their wait for them.   Since food is one of the things the Chinese take special pride in, a lot of care and thought goes into the menu for the most important holiday of the year. Every region and household has different customs, but there are some common dishes that can be seen on every table during the Chinese New Year Eve dinner.   Feast This Chinese New Year   Rice Cake, or Nian gao Nian gao, or the rice cake, or also known as”New Year cake” in English, is a must-have dish for every Chinese New Year. During the ancient times, Nian gao was only used as an offering to the ancestors and gods. Over time it became a traditional dish during the Spring Festival. And nowadays, although they are available throughout the year, it is still treated as a special treat for the Chinese New Year. With gao being a homonym for the Chinese word meaning tall, it also signifies the wish to be successful and grow higher each year, and that every year will be better than the previous. Some parents have found a rather humorous way to interpret this to their children; they like to tell their children that eating will help them grow taller too. This rice cake is usually made of sticky glutinous rice or yellow rice, giving Nian gao two distinct colours and textures.   Instead of the usual batter, sugar can also be added to the glutinous rice powder to sweeten the Nian gao. The batter may also include lard, rose petals, osthmanthus, hibiscus and mint for extra flavouring of the rice cake. If you happen to have a real sweet tooth, it’s also totally acceptable to directly dip your Nian gao in the sugar.   Spring Rolls Although usually prepared and eaten to mark the onset of Spring, these spring rolls are eaten on the first day of Spring. They usually find their place on the dinner table as a dish, snack or an appetizer. Generally, these spring roll skins are prepared with flour, water and salt. While the filling usually depends on your taste, traditionally the filling consists of Chinese cabbage, shiitake, carrots and seasoning. For people with a sweet tooth, there are red bean paste spring rolls.   Dumplings Another famous dish – the dumpling is a favourite of many people. They are eaten during all special occasions and festivals, and they are the most significant during the Chinese New Year. In the Chinese traditions, the dumplings signify “exchange” – the exchange of the old year for the new. By eating dumplings, you send away the old year and welcome the new year.   Noodles It’s custom in some places to cook noodles and dumplings together. This is another dish that is an expression of people’s wishes for prosperity. For Chinese New Year, people like to eat long noodles – the longer the noodle, the longer your life will be.   Steamed Fish Fish is a symbol of wealth and surplus, and it is a must-have for Chinese New Year. People usually steam a whole fish for dinner. While half the fish is eaten for dinner, the other half is eaten the next day. A whole fish signifies a harmonious family that is one whole unit.   Apart from these favourites, there is steamed chicken, vegetable dishes and hot pot.