Symbolism in Chinese food: an introduction

January 26th is Chinese New Year, ushering in the year of the ox. This is a time for lots of eating, with lots of symbolism around the food.


Oranges represent wealth and abundance. But that’s not the end of it. There are rules surrounding oranges:

  1. You must bring oranges when you arrive at host’s home. This rule applies to New Year’s Eve dinner, as well as to the 14 days after New Year’s when people visit their friends.
  2. You must bring an even number of oranges, indicating that no one is left by themselves.
  3. You may not bring four oranges, since the word for “four” sounds very similar to the word for “death.”
  4. You are encouraged to bring eight oranges, since the word for “eight” sounds very similar to the word for “fortune” or “wealth.”


Noodles represent long life and good health. The longer the noodles, the longer you’ll live. There’s usually some kind of spectacle involving ridiculously long noodles, really hot broth, and sloppy chopstick technique.


Eggs represent fertility. Often, there are hard-boiled eggs marinated in some kind of sauce. It’s tastier than it sounds.


Dumplings represent family togetherness, good luck, and fortune. The family togetherness stems from the fact that it’s a little packet of goodness inside of a wrapper, like everyone’s all cozy-like. And, well, everything in Chinese represents good luck and fortune. Seems that way, at least.


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