Munching on Luck: Chinese Chow for a Prosperous New Year

By , on February 18, 2015

Tray of Togetherness (Charmaine / Flickr)
Tray of Togetherness (Charmaine / Flickr)

Bring out the ang pao and tikoy because the Chinese Lunar new year is here. Other than the festive lanterns and parades – and not to mention the gifts! – Pinoys have taken a fondness of celebrating this important day with the Chinese.

And when it comes to food, Chinese influences in Filipino cuisine are undeniable.

A Pinoy take on Tsinoy Classics
One of the most famous Chinese fares that we Filipinos have come to love and embrace as our own is pancit. No Filipino fanfare, fiesta, party, or get-together is complete without a bilao of home-cooked delicacy of stir-fried glass noodles and vegetables.

We love it so much that almost every region—if not household—has its own version of pancit. There’s pancit habhab from Quezon Province, pancit malabon from—well—Malabon, pancit at dinuguan from Manila, and pancit bato or pancit bicol from Camarines province.

We are also big fans of siomai, which is the Filipino interpretation of the Chinese shao mai or shu mai (siu mai), which is basically steamed pork dumplings encased in a soft wanton wrapper.

With our love of flavor and sauces, we often accompanied siomai with toyomansi—soy sauce and calamansi (a tiny, spherical equivalent of a lime). For an added kick, don’t forget that garlic and chili oil.

Bus and train stations—and even malls—have siomai carts to answer every Pinoy’s siomai craving anytime. It is reasonably priced and adequately tasty. I personally remember how I survived on siomai back in college when allowance was tight and I was miles away from home.

Siopao is another Pinoy merienda staple that traced its roots from the Hokkien baozi, which literally means “steamed buns.” Whether it’s asado or bola-bola, Pinoys are no stranger to this pillowy white bun generously filled with steaming sauce and meat. Today, fillings vary from chicken to chorizo and even vegan options.

Filipinos also have a thing for eating on the go, so if Mexicans have the burrito and Vietnamese have their spring rolls, let’s thank the Chinese for bringing us lumpia. Granted it is also technically a spring roll, but in time Pinoys gave this humble pika food (finger food) a twist or two.

We have lumpiang sariwa (fresh lumpia) made of fresh vegetables like carrots, mungbean sprouts, and egg/flour wrapper. Then there’s lumpiang shanghai – fried spring rolls usually filled with a delectable mixture of ground pork, minced vegetables, and seasonings. A staple in almost every Pinoy celebration, lumpiang shanghai will surely bring a smile to your face. And don’t forget that tangerine elixir to go with the fried lumpia: the sweet-and-spicy dipping sauce.


Golden dumplings (Bonchan/ ShutterStock)
Golden dumplings (Bonchan/ ShutterStock)

Of Luck and Traditions
Considered as the most important dinner of all, the New Year’s Eve dinner is an event for the entire family. Reunions are often scheduled around the same time as the Chinese New Year celebrations.

For dinner, a whole fish and dumplings (jiaozi) are usually served. These two dishes symbolize prosperity and abundance in which the family can all partake in at home.

Jun Shan, a Chinese culture guide, also shared with that hiding a coin in one of the dumplings is a common practice. Whoever gets the coin will gain good luck this coming year.

Chinese families also never forget to offer a sacrifice to Zao Jun (or Zao Shen) – the Kitchen God (‘Stove God’ for some). Nian gao (sticky rice cake) is a very popular offering to Zao Jun. Children may also rub some honey on the Kitchen God’s small statue. These sacrifices are done in order to get a favorable report of the family’s character when Zao Jun returns to heaven.

Citrus fruits like tangerines and oranges are also given to children and guests during the Chinese New Year celebrations. These fruits symbolize good fortune and wealth.

Last but certainly not the least, each Chinese household prepares a ‘tray of togetherness.’ It’s usually an octagon-shaped tray with eight compartments – each filled with various delicacies like lotus seeds and lychee. The tray signifies a sweet and favorable beginning to the New Year.