by Growing Needs | Jan 9, 2023 | Food & Nutrition, Lifestyle & Wellness
Chinese New Year is just around the corner.
It’s that time of the year when we catch up with our loved ones over reunion dinners and visitations, offering blessings and well-wishes for the coming year. During such times, we want to host our relatives and friends with a table full of goodness. More often than not however, it turns out to be a table full of goodness gracious calories!
Are there any Chinese New Year goodies that are healthier for our bodies?
There are in fact many new healthy snacks in Singapore being offered to replace the traditional CNY gastronomical delights. Nevertheless, many of our elders might still prefer the traditional offerings as they carry significant emotional and auspicious weight for them. In this post, we narrow in on some healthier traditional options for the CNY Snack Box and explore the auspicious meanings behind them.
Snacks are indispensable for CNY hosting. They provide visitors with something sweet and nice to nibble on while mingling and chatting with the host and other guests. Hot favorites like Love Letters, Ba Kwa and Pineapple Tarts often steal the lime light. However, these are often high in fats and calories and can be easily over indulged to the detriment of our health. Here are some more “light-hearted” traditional snack options you can choose to offer this Chinese New Year.
Nuts are in fact an excellent and healthy source of plant-based proteins. Besides proteins, medical professionals have also noted that they contain other heart-friendly nutrients such as
Research has shown that having a healthy diet containing these heart-friendly nutrients may reduce the risk of heart attacks by
Within the context of the Chinese Culture, nuts in general ((坚果 Jiānguǒ) also carry the significance of longevity and happiness. In fact, each variety of nut have their own particular auspicious significance:
“Fah” is a homonym for “prosperity” and “Sheng” for “birth” and “growth/multiplication” or “abundance”
Signify “Harmony” and “Reunion”. Two walnuts in the shells are often rotated in one hand to promote circulation in the fingers as well.
“Happiness” as its namesake implies
In the Chinese culture, Almond Trees are harbingers of Spring as they are among the first trees to bloom in February. As such, Almonds came to symbolize a “Bright Future Ahead”.
As the shape of the Cashew nut is similar to that of a gold ingot, they are an obvious symbol of “wealth”
Besides having mixed nuts, dried fruits are another healthy option to add to the CNY snack box. During CNY, it is traditional to offer some sweets as a blessing to wish our guest a sweet journey in the year ahead. Dried fruits offer a healthier way of doing so especially when they do not contain any additional artificial sweeteners. Being natural fruits, they also contain a variety of fiber, vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants that are beneficial to health. There are several options among the traditional offerings:
The two characters that make up the Chinese word for red dates contain positive symbolisms. “Red” is an auspicious and lucky color that is frequently used in Chinese Festivals and celebrations. It also signifies popularity as the word 大红 means extremely popular. The word 枣 is also a homonym for the Chinese word 早 meaning “early” or “ahead of time”. Together, they convey the wish for the guest to experience good luck early and to be ahead of the pack. Recent offering include snacks where walnut pieces are wrapped within the dried red dates.
Dried longans are another favourite traditional snack offered during CNY. Besides being sweet, the Chinese word 龙眼 translates into “eye of the dragon”. The other Chinese name for longan 桂圆 is also of great significance. It is the homonym for 贵圆, “exquisite” and “round”. This symbolises “wealth”, “greatness”, “completeness” and “reunion”.
The bright orange colour of dried apricots makes them a prime candidate for the CNY goodie plate. Besides looking like little gold coins, the word “杏” has the same sound as “幸” meaning “lucky”. Hence a “杏子” also means a lucky fellow!
Persimmons have a long history of being an auspicious fruit in Chinese culture. Because they are round and smooth, they are often compared with the “Ruyi” – an auspicious jade object often worn by nobles to ward off evil and ensure that things are “going well” in accordance with one’s wishes (如意). At the same time, the word 柿 is a homophone of the Chinese word for “things” (事). Taken together, they form the phrase “事事如意” – a prayer for all things to be going well as one desires.
Lastly, it is also good to stock up on some traditional steamed cakes for CNY. These are usually eaten for breakfast, but they also provide a more substantial alternative to guests who might be a little hungry and need something more than table snacks to nibble on. Being steamed, they are generally more healthy than fried or baked snacks such as love letters and prawn crackers. Within this category, the “nian gao” (年糕) is a traditional must have item. However, it is made primarily using glutinous rice flour and lots of sugar. A little bit of this cake really goes a long long way on the calorie count. If this is still a must have item in your family tradition, you might want to consider buying a smaller and less sugary one this year. Try having it steamed instead of pan fried with a coating of eggs. Besides the 年糕, there are also other options in the traditional offering that may be more easy-going on your physical health. These include:
To “fa” or “huat” in Chinese is to have a “windfall”. The word “糕” also sounds like the word “tall” or “high” (高). Hence these slightly sweet, fluffy, muffin-like steamed cakes are eaten during CNY in the hopes of experiencing a tall windfall in the coming year.
Fun fact. The Chinese Turnip Cake is in fact made out of white radish and not turnips. As white radish was rarely seen out of Asia when this dish first became known to western translators, they thought that the white radish was some sort of turnip and the name got “stuck in translation”. The Chinese moniker 萝卜糕 also gives very little clues as to why this dim sum favorite that is eaten all year round should gain special significance during Chinese New Year. It is not until we consider the name of this dish in the Hokkien or Taiwan dialect that the connection becomes clear. In these two dialects, the cake is called 菜頭糕. The word 菜頭 sounds like 彩頭 which translates to the meaning “lucky sign”. Who would not want to have many lucky signs on the breakfast table during CNY?
The taro cake is made in the same way as the turnip cake with the white radish being substituted with the taro yam. This gives the cake a more “earthy” flavour and it gets even more crispy when pan fried. Similarly, the word 芋头 also sounds like 意头, meaning intentions or wishes. As a host, you offer your guest a good piece of taro cake, you are also offering them your best wishes for the coming year. This dish is savory and delicious steamed, as it usually contains little morsels of yummy shrimp, Chinese sausage and mushroom bits. If you have been really watching your diet and want to give yourself a small reward, you can also have them pan-fried to obtain a really fragrant and slightly crispy skin. With this list of traditional Chinese New Year snacks, you can certainly host your loved ones, relatives and friends with a table full of healthy intentions and well wishes as they visit you this CNY! Growing Needs SG wishes all our readers a Blessed, Prosperous and Roaracious Chinese New Year!
Growing Needs grew out of our own encounters with caring for our aging parents and reflecting on the Growing Needs that we ourselves would face as we advance in years. We hope to build a community that will learn, share and contribute towards caring for the growing needs of our loved ones.