Traditional Food in Preparation for 春节 (chūn jié)—Chinese New Year

by Chuanming Zhu

Being one of the most traditional Chinese festivals, Chinese New Year is the grandest and the most important festival for Chinese people. Therefore, preparations for the New Year starts a month before the New Year Eve. According to Chinese lunar calendar, people have different food and things to prepare on certain days. What do Chinese people need to do before the New Year? Is there any special food they need to prepare? Below are three kinds of traditional foods and the stories behind them.

Laba Rice Porridge 腊八粥 là bā zhōu

Laba Festival is celebrated on the eighth day of the last lunar month, it refers to the traditional start of celebrations for the Chinese New Year. “La” in Chinese means the 12th lunar month, and “ba” means eight. The two most important traditions associated with the Laba Festival are: eating Laba rice porridge and praying for peace and good health in the coming year.

Laba rice porridge contains glutinous rice, red beans, millet, Chinese sorghum, peas, dried lotus seeds, and some other ingredients, such as dried dates, chestnuts, walnuts, almonds, peanuts, etc. At least eight ingredients will be used in the recipe, and it will be cooked with sugar to make the porridge tasty. Today, Laba rice porridge serves as a symbol of reunion, good fortune, long life and a fruitful harvest.

糖瓜táng guā

In Chinese mythology, the Kitchen God is one of the most important Chinese domestic gods that protects the health and family. It is believed that on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, just 7 days before the Chinese Lunar New Year, he will return to Heaven to report the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor. The Jade Emperor, the emperor of the Heaven, will reward or punish a family based on the Kitchen God’s report.

People will offer malt sugar candies, 糖瓜 táng guā, to the Kitchen God. Chinese people believe that the Kitchen God will say something good after taking the sweet candies.

馒头 mán tou

On the 29th day of the 12th lunar month, every family will start preparing the staple food –steamed bread 馒头 mán tou, for the Spring Festival. People will carefully prepare and go through several steps, such as mixing, fermenting, kneading, shaping and steaming. The steamed bread will be made in various shapes, such as hedgehog, rat, rabbit, fish and so on. Hedgehogs and rats are very popular, as these animals dig holes to hide their food, which is believed to be a sign of saving money. In addition to steamed bread, there are steamed sugar buns, steamed flower rolls, steamed dates, steamed red bean buns and so on. The filling of steamed food is mainly sweet, which implies a sweet, harmonious and happy life.