Demystifying why some foods end up as CNY snacks

Learning the auspicious meaning behind these snacks make them yummier.

By Shanice Koh | January 25, 2014

Well, it’s that time of the year again! We’re now less than a week away from the annual feasting, Ang Pow collecting (or giving) and preparing ourselves from the tidal wave of questions from our “kaypoh” uncles and aunties. Chinese New Year (CNY) is synonymous with traditions and superstitions, and since we can all agree that Singapore’s favourite pastime is food, have you ever wondered why we eat what we eat during this festive season?

Here are 7 of the most common Chinese New Year food and why we eat them:


1. Pineapple Tarts

Pineapple TartsSource: The Little Teo Chew

Oh this sinful, buttery, golden-baked treat. In Hokkien, pineapple is “ong lai”, which literally means “prosperity has come”, and that is why one serves and eats pineapple tarts because it’s believed that they bring good luck and prosperity to the house.


2. Love Letters

Love LettersSource: Have You Eaten

What a curious name! It is believed that these delightfully sweet wafer thin biscuits were borne as a way for secret lovers to communicate in the past. The edible quality of the letter meant there’s absence of proof and the literal consumption of the message also means that the lover’s words had been taken to heart. How smart, secret agents and spies should totally do the same too, just saying!


3. Bak Kwa

Bak KwaSource: Deal

Savoury and decadent, once you start, it’s almost too hard to stop. In Cantonese, bak kwa is “long yoke”, which means having a robust fortune ahead. Now you know why it’s such a popular gift to business partners and acquaintances, as well as friends and relatives during CNY.


4. Prawn Rolls/Hei Bee Hiam

Hei Bee HiamSource: Rasa Malaysia

Spicy and slightly stinky, but oh-so-good! Shrimps are thought to represent happiness and good fortune, while spring rolls symbolize wealth (the shape represents a gold bar). Hence, the hei bee hiam combines both meanings together. Just make sure you don’t lose your voice from eating them!


5. Longevity Noodles

Longevity NoodlesSource: Tastespotting

The name explains itself. The proper way to eat the noodle is to consume it whole and making sure you do not break the long strand. Because, that would mean you’re breaking your luck and chances at a long, healthy life.


6. Yu Sheng/Lo Hei

Lo HeiSource: Melissa Hie

This is rarely missing at CNY, although it’s not the Gen-Y’s top favourite dish because it’s kind of like a salad (not all of them are the biggest fans of greens, they usually go straight for the salmon pieces or the “golden pillows”). Each ingredient holds its own auspicious meaning behind it. As a whole, it symbolizes abundance of wealth and long life. It’s quite a messy dish though.


7. Oranges

Mandarin OrangesSource: Yloke225

They are literally everywhere during CNY. The sound of oranges in Mandarin is similar to the Chinese word for “auspicious”, and hence they are considered traditional symbols of abundance and good
fortune. So when we exchange the pairs of fruit with the other party, it means we’re wishing them an auspicious and prosperous New Year.


For all the health-conscious folks out there, here’s a very useful calorie chart from Linora Low:

CNY calories


And if you need some music to get you into the festive mood, check out this funny and very local CNY MTV.


Top photo from Red Babe

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About Shanice Koh

Shanice is an English and Psychology undergrad, lifestyle blogger, freelance writer & graphic designer. A dreamer: Inspired by visual and literary curation.

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