Chinese New Year, celebrated tomorrow, lasts 15 days starting on the first day of the first lunar month. The holiday is steeped in myth and folklore. According to ancient Chinese legend, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on New Year’s Day, but only 12 animals turned up. Buddha named a year after each of those animals: dog, pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey and rooster. This year is the year of the horse. Legend goes that people born in the year of the horse will take on personality traits of the horse, which include fun-loving, charming and considerate (as well as egotistical, hotheaded and impatient).
For Chinese New Year, all members of a family – from the very young to the very old – get together to enjoy a feast, either at home or in a restaurant. Food plays a vital role in the celebration (and in Chinese culture, in general); nearly all of the food on a Chinese New Year table carries significant meaning. Roasted duck is often served as a symbol of fidelity. Fish (served whole) is eaten to bring prosperity through the coming year. Noodles symbolise long life; it’s bad luck to cut them, so they’ll typically be long noodles. Oranges are another staple of Chinese New Year dinners, simply because the Chinese word for orange sounds like the Chinese word for wealth.
The highlight of the New Year revolves around sharing food with family and friends. Sonthaya Sinphoothon, a chef at Cho Gao in Abu Dhabi, says: “Every Chinese New Year, we go shopping for food and then we come home and pray. When we finish, we give the food to the person who lives beside us, our neighbour. That brings luck.”
For Cho Gao’s Chinese New Year promotion, Sinphoothon has come up with a variety of dishes to ring in the New Year, including steamed red snapper, Chinese smoked duck salad and shrimp dumplings noodle soup. Dumplings symbolise wealth and are believed to bring good fortune throughout the year. Dumplings are also on the menu prepared by the chef Jeff Tan at Shang Palace at the Shangri-La Hotel in Abu Dhabi. The king dumpling soup with mock shark fin is loaded with crab and a perfect start to a meal that will also include braised abalone, roasted duck, black cod fish and a dish called “eight treasures rice” with chicken sausage, shiitake mushroom, dried scallop, duck sausage and dried shrimp. Eight is the luckiest number in Chinese culture, hence the name of the eight treasures rice.
At just 36, Tan has been cooking for 25 years. Though he won’t be sharing food with his own family this New Year, he is excited to serve his specially designed set menu to guests who will celebrate at his restaurant. “I will be here cooking. I like to eat and I love to cook,” he says.
His menu is designed to be shared. “Chinese New Year is a good chance for families to be and eat together.”
Whether you celebrate with family or with friends, you’ll find plenty of places to ring in the Chinese New Year in the UAE. And who couldn’t use a little extra luck and prosperity this year?
Don’t feel like going out? Celebrate at home with these recipes we have collected for you.