The biggest hallmark of any festive season would definitely be the feasting, and the Chinese New Year is no different. Held on the eve of the first day of Chinese New Year, the 团圆饭 （reunion dinner） is a meal that is especially important for Chinese families and is one of the most strictly followed age-old traditions!
The reunion dinner is a time for family members that are usually scattered far and wide to catch up with one another, as well as maintain familial bonds. However, in the Singaporean context where most families either live together or within an hour’s journey at most from each other, the significance of the reunion dinner has been shifted from bonding to feasting!
What to eat
In our previous blogs, we talked about how Chinese New Year activities are highly superstitious and the reunion dinner is definitely no exception. The food consumed during the reunion dinner is supposed to have symbolic meaning, and may represent the blessings that the family wishes for in the coming year.
These fried dumplings for instance are commonly eaten during reunion dinners and are supposed to represent golden ingots that bring in wealth and prosperity in the new year.
Popularized in the 1970s, the Yusheng has become one of the most popular dishes in the Chinese New Year. The Yusheng is a Cantonese-styled raw fish salad and its name ‘Yusheng’ is a common homophone for “余升”, meaning an increase or abundance of luck and prosperity. Each ingredient in the Yusheng has its own symbolic meaning, such as the raw salmon sashimi representing an ‘excess’ or ‘abundance’.
Once ready, all members at the table then stand up and begin to toss the ingredients into the air! It is believed that the height of the toss reflects the height of the diners’ fortunes in the year ahead, thus it not surprising to see everyone tossing enthusiastically while saying various “auspicious wishes” out loud.
Also commonly eaten, these long strands of vermicelli noodles are used to represent longevity and long lives for family members, an important wish especially for the elders of the family.
Last but not least, is the steamboat which by itself, may be the centerpiece of the entire reunion dinner! Composing of a hotpot of tasty broth, many families may choose to have steamboat dinners for their reunion dinner instead of going to the trouble of cooking multiple individual dishes. The steamboat is a practical alternative to having multiple-dished dinners and is widely consumed by locals for the reunion dinner. Nowadays, most families may not go to the hassle of cooking their own dinners and may instead opt to eat out at restaurants. These Chinese restaurants have responded to the rising demands for wholesome meals during the reunion dinner, and have even priced their dinner sets with auspicious numbers, eg $888 which is a lucky Chinese number, you definitely not see a dinner with a price like $444 (4 symbolising death in Chinese tradition).