SINGKIT - Doreen G. Yu (The Philippine Star) - February 10, 2013 - 12:00am

We are starting our 27th year on a very auspicious day, the first day of the lunar or Chinese new year. Like overseas Chinese all over the world, Tsinoys celebrate the eve with appropriate festivity and feasting. Though on a lesser scale than Dec. 31, fireworks light the sky as the Dragon gives way to the Snake.

I am often asked what foods I have on my new year’s eve dinner table. To be honest, I don’t plan my menu based on “lucky food,” but on family tradition and family tastes, specifically what I learned from my mother and my grandmother, both of whom were excellent cooks (as practically all Chinese women of their generations were). But, as times they are a-changing, there have been variations on the theme of plenty, of the best that land and sea has to offer.

A whole chicken stuffed with sticky rice, sausage, lotus seeds, mushrooms has at times found a modern reincarnation as a stuffed turkey, American Thanksgiving style. A fish – large, but not too large that it would take too long to  cook – is steamed whole. A slab of meat is braised to a deep mahogany and shiny with fat (the pots of tea take care of the cholesterol) or roasted to a golden brown. A huge platter of noodles allows everyone to slurp, the sound a good indication of family members eating with gusto...

It is of particular importance for the entire family to gather round the family hearth, to end one year and start another all together, around a dinner table overladen with food, the leftovers to be eaten the next day.

Much of the increasingly popular concept of “lucky food” is based on symbolism and homonyms. For example, the serving of fish is based on the saying “nian nian you yü” – literally, having more than enough or having leftover (yü) every year, with the word “yü” sounding like the word for fish. The pineapple as a lucky fruit is a Hokkien thing, since pineapple in the Hokkien dialect (ong lai) is a homonym for “prosperity come.” Whether you believe in this or not, there is a kitschy charm to those red paper pineapples, so go ahead and hang one above your door.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21


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