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By Ivan Chan, accredited practising dietitian
As we return to work and school in 2021, the Chinese-speaking people in Victoria are preparing to celebrate their Chinese (or lunar) New Year, from 12-25 February. Whether you celebrate Lunar New Year or not, you can enjoy the cultural food experience.
Written in different characters, the Chinese language is full of symbols and homonyms, so wordplay is the name of the game. A homonym is how one word sounds the same as another but has multiple meanings, like “pear” and “pair”. Let’s look at some Chinese festive favourites, their meanings and some healthy tips to manage your diabetes.
Springing into the first Lunar New Year favourite as an entrée, spring rolls are as Chinese as it gets! Spring rolls are commonly eaten in the Spring Festival in many parts of China. Looking like gold bars, people consume them as a sign of gaining wealth.
Tip: They are traditionally deep fried in oil to give a golden hue. To make them healthier, enjoy them baked or even wrapped in rice paper, although the latter is not as golden in colour. Savour the flavours and eat mindfully as they go down easily!
Fish sounds like “abundance” in Chinese, so their New Year menu will invariably include a fish dish. Traditionally, Chinese people steam their fish whole, with ginger or spring onion and perhaps in a slightly sweetened soy sauce.
Tip: Fish contains the heart healthy omega-3 fats. You can steam or bake fish by wrapping it with aluminium foil to retain its nutrients and keep it healthy. Go easy on the soy sauce as it is very high in salt. If you do not enjoy fish, chicken is another dish that brings good fortune.
Chinese people eat uncut noodles, being long in shape, to symbolise a long life. Whether it is egg, wheat or rice-based, noodles are a universal part of Chinese culture.
Tip: Noodles are generally cooked in boiling water, like how pasta is cooked. However, if you eat this in a restaurant, they can be higher in fat if stir-fried. Noodles are also rich in carbohydrate, so be mindful of portion sizes to help manage your blood glucose levels.
Vegetables sound like “financial prosperity”, and more so if they are green in colour. Most Chinese people steam, boil or stir-fry their vegetables with garlic or ginger. The Chinese wombok is one of the most popular vegetables used in Lunar New Year dishes.
Tip: Full of fibre, let vegetables make up at least half of your plate or bowl. Add a few dashes of sesame oil upon serving for extra aroma.
Lastly, fruits represent fruitfulness. Mandarins and oranges further sound like “prosperity”, “success” and “fortune”. Being round in shape and golden in colour (yellow or orange) means they represent fullness and wealth.
Tip: Finish your meal with some fruit. Mandarins tend to get pricier as Lunar New Year approaches, since people exchange mandarins to impart mutual blessings. Tie up your mandarins in air-tight bags to stop them from drying up if you are stocking up early.
As you look at some of the festive foods for Lunar New Year this year, enjoy some of these healthier choices with your tastebuds as you appreciate the cultural richness. May you have yourself a Happy Lunar New Year with your loved ones!
|Ivan Chan, accredited practising dietitian at Diabetes Victoria.|
One of Ivan’s main roles is to translate food knowledge to empower people to better manage their diabetes. He is always curious about using and learning new technology, as well as helping others enjoy the benefits too.
Ivan likes to flaunt his limited Italian and Greek, all for generating laughter and building bridges with people.