Food is an integral and symbolic part of Chinese New Year celebrations.
I once employed a chef who hailed from the Yangtze River Delta in Nanjing and who was notoriously hard to convince to come along to any event or outing - except the Chinese New Year.
Welcome to the year of the rabbit - which occurs every 12 years as determined by the cycle of the new moon, which this year was February 3. Chinese New Year celebrations run for 15 days, and includes firecrackers to ward off evil spirits and ends with a stunning lantern festival.
In Chinese mythology, the rabbit is the emblem of longevity. People born in the year of the rabbit are believed to be calm and tranquil peacemakers, who have a taste for refinement and living life at a slower pace.
Given the importance of eating in Chinese culture, food plays a major role in New Year festivities. Noodles represent a long life and it is bad luck to cut them. A whole chicken symbolises family strength and when cut it must be presented with head, tail and feet intact to symbolise completeness. Spring rolls, with their shape similar to gold bars, symbolise wealth, and sticky rice cake symbolises advancement towards higher positions and success. In northern China, families traditionally prepare Jiaozi together - dumplings which are eaten at midnight and are a symbol of prosperity.
Sweet and sour pork is likely to be consumed by wannabe grandparents as the Cantonese word for sour sounds like the word for grandchild.
New Year's Day, however, is traditionally vegetarian - think large meals containing seaweed and lettuce - thanks to excess eating the night before and good karma to be had from avoiding eating anything that has been killed. Commonly known as the day of the squabbles, it is also the day to avoid any social interaction.
Tofu is another ingredient that shouldn't be eaten during Chinese New Year as its white colour is associated with death or misfortune.
In Cantonese villages, a fire-pot feast called Poon Tsoi resembles a giant fondue in a wooden bowl. The base is lined with Chinese lettuce and sang choy; the next layer is cooked, chopped white turnip mixed with stir-fried pork skin and fish balls. Dried squid, roast pork, dried oysters, braised lotus roots and chicken complete the mouth-watering dish.
Presents of money are given at New Year in a red envelope with good luck characters on it - red is a lucky colour. Just remember me, the busy cook, knocking out Beijing sandwiches from our street food specials at Rebo, SkyCity!