8 Inauspicious foods to avoid this Chinese New Year for good luck
Watch what you eat
Chinese culture is rife with superstitions, many of which revolve around festive occasions and celebrations. And no, we’re not referring to feng shui, which is widely recognised as pseudoscience today; but cultural taboos that cover everything from clothing to diet to household routines. Regardless of whether you’re a superstitious person, it’s important to be aware of Chinese superstitions when it comes to food—especially during Lunar New Year, since reunion gatherings typically involve shared dishes. You wouldn’t want to step on anyone’s toes or invite looks of disapproval from conservative relatives now, would you?
With that in mind, here are eight dishes to avoid during this festive season to ensure you’re on the right track to prosperity and health…or at least in your family’s good books.
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While chicken is a rather common ingredient in many Chinese dishes regardless of the occasion, there is a belief that it shouldn’t be eaten during Chinese New Year as the bird scratches backwards. This is said to signify dwelling in the past and an inability to move forward into the new, or that you’re scraping by for a living. Seeing as the new year is the opportune time to welcome abundance and prosperity, perhaps skipping the chicken during this period would be a safer choice.
Considered a delicacy in many places around the world, lobster is a type of seafood that many associate with special occasions. However, it may be best to keep it off the dining table on Chinese New Year because the lobster swims backwards, and eating it during the new year period is believed to cause setbacks and inconveniences throughout the year. Ironically, although prawns are also known to swim backwards, they are considered a staple dish of the season because the Cantonese word for prawn (har) sounds like laughter—symbolising laughter and happiness.
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Congee or savoury rice porridge is a staple in many Asian cultures where it’s regarded as comfort food. In China and for many Chinese people around the world, congee is often eaten for breakfast. However, serving congee for breakfast on Chinese New Year is seen as taboo based on the history of the dish. In olden times, congee was associated with poverty as it was typically all that the poor could afford. Thus, eating congee on Chinese New Year morning could invite bad luck related to wealth and finances, and that’s something no one wants to risk. It’s also a white-coloured food, a no-no that’s next on this list.
4. White foods
It’s well-known that red is the colour of good luck and prosperity in Chinese culture, seen everywhere during Lunar New Year as a symbol of good fortune. On the other hand, white is an unlucky colour as it symbolises death, thus why it is discouraged to serve and eat white foods during the festive season. This includes tofu, eggs, white bread, and cheeses, just to name a few. No one wants to welcome death into the house, so if you’re cooking or ordering food for this year’s reunion meal, consider serving more auspicious colours such as red, yellow, and green.
5. Cut or broken noodles
Good news: You won’t have to retire your love for noodles anytime soon, not even temporarily for Chinese New Year. What you might want to be mindful of, however, is to ensure that your noodles should not be cut or broken for your new year’s feast. It is a common Chinese superstition (regardless of the occasion) that cutting noodles is said to shorten one’s lifespan. In fact, long noodles known as ‘longevity noodles’ are eaten all across China during this festive season to symbolise a long, healthy life.
Pears are normally enjoyed as a sweet, refreshing treat, but you would do well not to share this fruit with loved ones this Chinese New Year. This is because the word for pear in Chinese (lí) sounds the same as the Chinese word for ‘leave’. Giving someone a pear during festive occasions is seen as a symbol of parting and saying ‘goodbye’, and it’s believed to have negative connotations for relationships with friends and family.
Similar to lobsters, crabs are another crustacean you’ll want to avoid during Chinese New Year. The reason is that crabs move from side to side, which is said to bring you setbacks throughout the year and prevent you from moving ahead. Not only that, the Cantonese pronunciation for crab (hai) sounds like a sigh of exasperation, and nobody wants to hear that around the dinner table or in the coming year. Don’t worry though, you can still satisfy your love for seafood—just swap it for any fish that swims forward, like cod, salmon, or catfish.
As it turns out, pears aren’t the only fruit to skip at the start of the year. However, the reason for this is rather vague—some say the fruit simply brings bad luck. Others say it’s because a bunch of upturned bananas resemble a hand begging. While gifting fruit is a common occurrence in Asian culture to wish someone well and show good intentions, it is recommended to leave pears and bananas out and opt for oranges, tangerines or pomelos instead—all of which are fruits associated with good fortune.
Other food etiquettes to keep in mind during Chinese New Year:
- Don’t pass the knife at the dinner table or gift it to anyone, lest you want to cut ties with that person.
- Keep leftovers during your reunion meals. This is the one time you don’t have to feel guilty about not finishing your food as leftovers represent abundance or surplus for the year ahead.
- Stock up on your groceries before Chinese New Year. Some believe that starting the year off with an empty refrigerator or pantry is bad luck and will cause scarcity in your life, so remember to schedule a grocery run before your reunion dinner!
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