Citizens, the Chinese have a long-standing affinity for using their tonal-based language to make food puns equating a dish with money – most of these so-called ‘lucky’ dishes are traditionally served at Chinese New Year to ensure good fortune. However, sometimes the Chinese go down an alternate path, where the food is named after money because it actually LOOKS like it – and this particular dish from Hunan admirably demonstrates this particular predilection!
Eggs feature in many classic Chinese dishes, of course – from so-called ‘century eggs‘, to stir-fried tomato eggs to the eggs in egg drop soup and a whole lot more – but eggs are beloved for more than just their protein and flavor – they too fall into the so-called ‘lucky foods’ category as well!
As noted in a fascinating article on atlastravelweb.com, these are a sampling of ‘lucky foods’ eaten on Chinese New Year:
Chinese new year candy box: also known as a tray of togetherness or prosperity box is usually a round platter with eight compartments filled with interesting variety of snacks, to share with family and friends. Each of the eight items in the tray of togetherness has symbolic meaning meant to insure a prosperous new year. For example, coconut is for togetherness, kumquats for prosperity and red melon seeds for happiness.
Yu sheng is a must-have for Chinese families every New Year. It is a Teochew-style raw fish salad and symbolizes abundance, prosperity and vigour. It is believed that the height of the toss reflects the height of the diner’s growth in fortunes, thus diners are expected to toss enthusiastically.
Long noodles: Long, uncut cooked noodles (mian tiao) such as Soba are eaten without chewing to represent a long life.
Seafood: Fish is served whole with head and tail, symbolizing the end of one year and the beginning of another. Catfish, mud carp and crucian carp are popular fish dishes.
When set down on the table, the head of the fish should be placed towards the family elder or head of household representing respect. Then the two people at the head and tail of the fish should drink together for luck. The person at the head of the fish should be the first one to serve himself or herself. Shrimp and prawns symbolize happiness and good fortune.
JiaoZi: For the Chinese New Year, Dumplings (jiao zi), are considered lucky because their shape resemble the silver ingots used as currency during the Ming Dynasty. Popular fillings include minced pork, diced chicken, shrimp or beef and vegetables.
Tradition is for the family to make the dumplings together, and then eaten at midnight. Some hide a coin in one of the dumplings and whoever gets the coin will have extra luck in the coming year. Eat up as it is thought that the more dumplings you eat the more money you will make in the new year.
Nian Gao: The tradition of eating rice cakes dates back over 3,000 years. This is a steamed fruit cake that is made from glutinous rice flour, brown sugar and oil. It is usually offered to the kitchen god so that he will take back a favorable report before returning to heaven at the start of the new year. You can also bake the vs. steaming. The stickiness of the cake symbolizes binding the family together for the new year & is believed to bring prosperity.
Bakkwa: A popular dish eaten during the New Year celebration because of its lucky red color, bakkwa is a salty and sweet dried meat similar to jerky and are usually made of pork. Treated as a delicacy, it is a popular gift to give and receive during New Year festivities.
Black moss seaweed signifies wealth and good fortune. You can use it in soups, vegetarian dishes and as a garnish.
Eight Treasures Rice: Dating as far back as 1123 BC, this rice pudding is sticky and sweet and often eaten on New Years. It features 8 dried fruits and nuts, hence the name. The 8 items often used are red dates, lotus seeds, walnuts, dates, pine nuts, raisins, dried apricot and pistachios combined with glutinous rice, sweetened bean paste, lard or oil and sugar. You can use different items if you wish, but stick with 8 as that is a lucky number in China.
Tang Yuan: (Sweet rice balls) The 15th day of the Chinese New Year known as Yuanxiao Festival (a/k/a the Lantern Festival.) Since the rice balls are round, it is supposed to signify the circle of unity and harmony within the family.
Depending on the region, some rice balls are filled with things like meat, vegetables, sugar, sesame or sweet bean or chocolate paste, where others have no filling and are used in soups, syrup or tea. Although it originated during the Chinese New Year & Winter Solstice festivals, Tang Yuan has evolved and is often eaten at weddings and other family celebrations.
Citrus Fruit: Pomelo is a large citrus fruit thought to bring continuous prosperity in the new year. Many also eat tangerines and oranges because of their golden color also thought to represent prosperity in the new year.
In Malaysia and Singapore, the 15th day of Chinese New Year is celebrated by individuals seeking for a love partner. Single women would write their contact number on mandarin oranges and throw them in a river or a lake while a single man would collect them and eat the oranges. The taste is an indication of their possible love: sweet represents a good fate while sour represents a bad fate!!!
Duck symbolizes fidelity. Like fish, it is served whole, representing the end of a year and the beginning of another, but also because some believe that slicing or cutting can represent negative things, like the severing of family ties.
Now, as for this particular dish – like the citrus fruits which are fortuitous due to their golden color – it is lucky because the way the eggs are sliced makes them resemble an old-school gold coin, at least for those with a poetic bent to their souls like TFD!
The people of Hunan have traditionally not been the wealthiest of Chinese, and thus this dish became very popular for those less-fortunate souls who wanted to increase their riches – the fact that it is also totally delicious made it popular with everyone in China, rich and poor alike!
Gold coin eggs are not at all difficult to make, but does require a few ingredients easily found in any Chinese grocery store. If you don’t have one near you, never fear! You can purchase my favorite hot Chinese broad bean paste here and my preferred brand of fermented black beans here.
This is a dish that, IMHO, is best made with duck eggs – if you can find them. If not, chicken eggs are just fine. However, duk eggs are where it’s at when it comes to richer flavor, and the Hunanese are huge fans of duck eggs as well!
Prepare your tastebuds for a spicy and protein-leaden meal of the first order, my Citizens! I’d enjoy this spicy, easy fried eggs dish with some equally-delicious fried scallion bread, personally.
Battle on – the Generalissimo
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