Feature Articles

Tales of the Tasty Goodies

By: yuxian on 25 Feb 2013
With the advent of the Chinese New Year, you will see red as you walk through the decorated shops blasting festive songs. Apart from the visual and auditory assault, it is also highly likely that you will be overwhelmed with the mouthwatering scents of New Year goodies. Do you know the significance of the various types of goodies?

Love Letters

Delicately rolled or folded, this wafer-thin biscuit is extremely popular despite the slightly messy aftermath of consumption. You might need to arm yourself with some tissue to catch the falling crumbs. Chinese legend has it that the biscuit used to serve as a form of - you guessed it - communication between lovers who kept their romance a secret. The subsequent consumption of the biscuit by the letter recipient is said to signify acknowledgement of the lover's words. Though we now have text messages and emails to keep romance alive, the biscuit still remains to represent the sweetness of love.

Pineapple Tarts

(Photo Credit: Ju-X)

This golden-brown pastry is a favourite of many Singaporeans, not just the Chinese. However, in Chinese culture, the pineapple tart holds a special significance in its name. It is called 'Wong Lai' and 'Ong Lai' in the Cantonese and Hokkien dialects respectively. When spoken in dialects, the names are similar to the sound of the phrase 'Prosperity Comes', which characterises the pineapple tart as a symbolic food promising prosperity.

The Tray of Togetherness

The most revered number in Chinese culture is the number 8 (八, ba), as the pronunciation is similar to that of '发 (Fa)', meaning to prosper (indeed, the issue of prosperity is inextricable from Chinese culture). The Tray of Togetherness, or 八宝盒 (literally translated as Box of Eight Treasures), is a box that is filled with a total of – you guessed it again! – eight types of food, including candy, melon seeds, pistachios. Each type of food has an auspicious meaning to it, a few of which includes growth, longevity and happiness.

Mandarin Oranges

(Photo Credit: Cindy Funk)

Of course, no Chinese New Year will be complete without mandarin oranges In Chinese, the name for it “桔” (ju) sounds like “吉” (ji) which means good fortune. When visiting friends and relatives, visitors usually bring a pair of these oranges to exchange with the host. A single orange does not bode well in terms of meaning, as it may represent loneliess. Moreover, the Chinese associate even numbers with happy events and odd numbers with misfortunes.

Rice Cakes

Chinese Rice Cake, Nian gao
(Photo Credit: Juliana Phang)

The Chinese rice cake is sweet and glutinous. The story behind it is a rather comical one – according to Chinese myth, the sticky rice cake was used as an offering (much like an edible sweet glue) to seal the Kitchen God's mouth. The reason behind this? It was to prevent him from passing on unfavourable reports of a household to his celestial superior, the Jade Emperor. The Chinese name for it, “年糕 (Nian Gao)” is a homonym for the phrase “soaring to greater heights every year”. Thus, the auspicious meaning of the name is highly regarded by the Chinese who eat it all year-round during festive ocassions.

After understanding the tales of the tasty goodies, what are some of your favourite New Year goodies? Do you know their origins and significance?

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