08 February, 2013

Time to Appease the Kitchen God

According to the Chinese Zodiac, the Year of 2013 is the Year of the Snake, which begins on Sunday,February 10. The Chinese New Year--or Lunar New Year as it is more properly known--is actually celebrated over a 15 day long period (a complete cycle of the Chinese calendar takes 60 year). 

Ancient Chinese wisdom says a Snake in the house is a good omen because it means that your family will not starve. Food plays an important part in Chinese culture and religion.

Of all the Chinese domestic deities, the most important to average Chinese is the Kitchen God: Tsao Chun. Tsao Chun (shown below with his wife) not only watches over the domestic affairs of a household, but he is a moral force in the lives of all family members. Every year, during the Chinese new year, Tsao Chun ascends to heaven to present a report to the Jade Emperor as to the good or bad behavior of each family member. 

To ensure that the report will be favourable, householders clean the god's shrine in the kitchen thoroughly and bribe him by smearing honey in his mouth so that sweet and flattering words will be said about them, dipping the god's portrait in wine to get him drunk or feeding him a sticky confection to prevent him talking or both. A good report would bring good fortune and luck. Each household burns a paper image of the Kitchen God, so that he may ascend to the Jade Emperor in the heavens. 

The Chinese include a paper horse to lift him on his journey (the Vietnamese prefer a carp fish). In the afternoon of the fourth day after Zao Shen’s ascend to Heaven, people prepare offerings of food to welcome the return of the Kitchen God and his retinue from the trip to the Jade Emperor's court. The Kitchen God's return signifies the end of freedom from spiritual surveillance.

According to superstition you must clean your house thoroughly to sweep away misfortune and make way for good luck and fortune in the coming year. The old year and its spirits are banished by sweeping the floors before New Year's Day. (Don't sweep on New Year's Day itself - you'll sweep away the New Year fortune if you do.) At New Year, special emphasis is placed on the symbology of different foods. Here are what a few foods symbolize: 

  • Bamboo shoots = wealth 
  • Black moss seaweed = wealth 
  • Dried Bean Curd = happiness (note: fresh tofu is not served because the color white symbolizes death and misfortune in Chinese culture). 
  • Chicken = happiness and marriage (especially when served with "dragon foods," such as lobster), family reunion (if served whole)
  • Eggs = fertility Egg Rolls = wealth 
  • Fish served whole = prosperity 
  • Chinese garlic chives = everlasting, a long life 
  • Lychee nuts = close family ties 
  • Noodles = A long life Oranges = wealth 
  • Peanuts = a long life 
  • Pomelo = abundance, prosperity, having children 
  • Seeds = lotus seeds, watermelon seeds, etc. - having a large number of children 
  • Tangerines = luck 
Gung Hay Fat Choy! (That’s “Happy New Year”, or literally, “May you have good fortune".)And try out my recipe for Crab Wontons to ring in the New (Lunar) Year. http://tigerwiseman.com/?p=763