Food For The Feast: Chinese New Year

As the Chinese calendar is “lunisolar” (where the date indicates both time of the solar year and the moon phase), the New Year is actually arriving next Friday, January 31st. While you may have just thrown a New Year’s celebration a month ago, Chinese New Year is a different affair.

Much like the title implies, Chinese New Year is primarily important to citizens and descendants of those from China. For Chinese restaurants, this is a boon and a chance to share Chinese culture with customers who may not have even considered celebrating the culture of another.

If you run a Chinese restaurant, sell Chinese food, or even just want to come up with an interesting fusion concept for your restaurant, you might want to bone up on the history and culture associated with it. Panda Express has decided to take advantage of the holiday, offering a free single serving of Firecracker Chicken coupled with a red envelope.

Why a red envelope? Read on to find out.

Timeframe

While the Chinese New Year starts next Friday, it continues for 15 days. The celebration starts on a different day each year, but always runs for 15 days; this time period is the perfect time to possibly try out a limited menu, giving customers little over two weeks to come in and try something new.

Foods

In the days leading up to the celebration, sweet foods (like candy and cake) are offered up for deities to report good things about them. On the first day of the celebration, using knives and lighting fires is considered to be bad luck, so most food eaten this day would be prepared previously. The 13th day leads to a purely vegetarian diet, to clean out the stomach from over-eating in the past few days.

Certain foods are associated with the celebration, all with meaning.

  • Chicken is boiled, with the belief that any family should be able to afford a chicken.
  • “Buddha’s Delight” is a traditional vegetarian dish served on New Year’s Eve and the first day.
  • Fish is a homophone with “surpluses,” indicating prosperity.
  • Leek is a homophone for “money,” indicating financial success.
  • Jau gok, a dumpling, resembles ancient Chinese gold ingots.
  • Jiaozi, another dumpling, resembles a silver ingot, and preparation resembles packing luck inside of it.
  • Mandarin oranges are plentiful, and are a homonym with “luck.”
  • Seeds, primarily melon seeds, indicate fertility.
  • Noodles, uncut, symbolize longevity and long life.
  • Bakkwa is a salty-sweet dried meat, smoked and intended as a gift.
  • Taro cakes and turnip cakes are generally enjoyed without symbolism.

Practices

The red envelopes are given from married couples and elders to unmarried children, usually containing an even amount of money. Gifts are exchanged between friends and relatives. Open-air markets are set up for purchasing such items. Finally, firework displays are a popular way to celebrate.

How To Integrate

Chicken dishes are a popular plan, alongside fish. Any sort of sauce or flavoring from Mandarin oranges, seeds, and even leeks could be adapted for parts of your menu. If anything, remember to be respectful of the holiday. Make sure all marketing is encouraging to have customers come in and celebrate the holiday with you.