Talk And Co

Happy Year of the Sheep/Ram/Goat!

2015 Year of the Sheep

Happy Chinese New Year!

If you were born in any of these years, you're a sheep baby! Oh wait, that's a lamb...

If you were born in any of these years, you’re a sheep baby! Oh wait, that’s a lamb…

Thursday, February 19, 2015 marked the first day of the Year of the Sheep/Ram/Goat. How come no one seems to know which animal to say?

This was actually a topic of conversation at dinner on “Chinese New Year’s Eve” (which was more like Western Thanksgiving, to get together with family, rather than a celebration of the new year—that will come later!). Over the last few days, I’ve seen the same uncertainty across news articles. It’s kind of funny, that Chinese language! Since the Chinese word for this year’s zodiac animal can refer to all three, I’d say just pick and choose whichever you’d like! (My cousins and I prefer “Year of the Sheep”!)

Food is a very important part of Chinese culture, so I had a BIG dinner with my family on Wednesday to celebrate the end of the year and coming of the new one. We went to a wonderful family-owned restaurant called Global International Cuisine Inc. (國寶軒) in Dragon Centre Mall in Scarborough (23 Glen Watford Drive). Although some of our dishes deviated from traditions a little, there was still some symbolism attached to each dish, usually because of the way the name sounds in Chinese or the way the food looks.

Fried oysters; black moss & duck feet; chicken; fish

Fried oysters; black moss & duck feet; chicken; fish

  1. Pork tongue and lotus root soup (not pictured): This soup represents wishes for a profitable year and luck in finding your significant other.
  2. Fried oysters: Fried to a crisp, golden colour to represent traditional gold ingot currency.
  3. Black moss with duck’s feet, lettuce and Chinese mushrooms: The Chinese name of black moss sounds similar to the words for good fortune/riches, and the duck’s feet symbolize the “grabbing” of money. Overall, the dish represents prosperity.
  4. Duck (not pictured): I didn’t get a picture of this before everyone snatched it up, but duck can symbolize fertility. Traditionally, families usually have roast pig instead.
  5. Chicken: It represents wealth, because historically, only very rich families were able to afford it.
  6. Steamed fish: The Chinese word for fish, “yu,” sounds like the word for both wish and abundance. Usually, the fish is served whole (with the head and tail) to symbolize a good beginning and end for the coming year, but we just had a giant tail.
  7. Steamed lobsters over Chinese vermicelli: The lobsters symbolize strength and good fortune, while the vermicelli noodles resemble silver chains.
    I'm lookin' at you lookin' at me!

    I’m lookin’ at you lookin’ at me!

    Scallops; long noodles; veggies; fried rice

    Scallops; long noodles; veggies; fried rice

  8. Scallops with king oyster mushrooms: This represents wishes for fertility/children.
  9. Vegetables with enoki mushrooms: More wealth and fortune (do we see a pattern yet?)
  10. Noodles: Long noodles for a long life!
  11. Fried rice: I didn’t even see the whole plate, so I just took a picture of my bowl. It had seafood and veggies in it, but they had no particular significance. It has been said that rice can represent fertility, luck, wealth, and a link between heaven and earth, though.
  12. Eight-treasure sticky rice: Yum! Not a lot of places serve this, and the restaurant owner custom-made three for us. This dessert is a mound of sticky (glutinous) rice, traditionally decorated with eight kinds of dried fruits and filled with red bean paste, a staple in many Chinese desserts. In this version, there were red and green maraschino cherries, dates and lotus seeds. I don’t usually like to eat the fruit/seeds on top, but I like the pops of colour they add.
  13. Mango dumplings: Look how pretty they were! They were a complimentary treat and they were filled with fresh cream and mango. Although this has nothing to do with traditions, the round shape could symbolize family reunion.
  14. And at last, the pièce de résistance…dumplings in red bean dessert soup!: We already had the mango dumplings at this point, but nothing can replace traditional dumplings in Chinese culture. Again, they symbolize reunion. This restaurant chose to serve them in red bean dessert soup, so the red can represent happiness and optimism in Chinese culture.
Eight-treasure sticky rice; mango dumplings; dumplings in red bean dessert soup

Eight-treasure sticky rice; mango dumplings; dumplings in red bean dessert soup

Fourteen courses later, our bellies were definitely very full!

Before we left, we also picked up some of the popular steamed cakes that are only available during the Chinese New Year season. The ones from this restaurant are especially popular because they are all made by hand by one person who has her secret recipe down pat.

Chinese New Year cakes

Chinese New Year cakes

There are different sweet and savoury flavours available (traditional, coconut, water chestnut, taro, red bean, etc.) but my favourite it still the traditional, sweet New Year Cake. Its Chinese name sounds similar to the words for a “higher year” so it represents wishes for lots of good stuff in the coming year, and some say the sweetness symbolizes a rich and sweet life.

There are still Chinese New Year celebrations continuing over the coming weeks, so it’s not too late to get in on the action! I’m going for dim sum tomorrow and rumour has it, there will be a traditional Chinese lion dance at the restaurant to kick off the new year!

 

 

Do you have a favourite Chinese New Year food, or is there anything you’re looking forward to trying this year?

I'm all about the food, PR, digital marketing and randomness—because what fun is life without a sprinkle of nonsense? If you've got an idea for a new adventure, @thisharriet probably wants to know about it.