This time of year (Chinese New Year) lots of foods are commonly prepared for celebrations or given as gifts, usually for auspicious reasons! We especially enjoy the mandarin oranges that are in season!
Mandarin oranges come in many varieties - but they are sweet, typically seedless, easy to peel & devour. They are very kid-friendly, and healthy in so many ways! They are high in vitamins A&C, anti-oxidants, & fiber - and are known to reduce the risks of liver cancer, hardened arteries/heart disease, strokes, and possibly kidney stones. It makes a great snack too!
Mandarins receive their names from the bright orange robes worn by the Mandarins (ancient Chinese court officials), and are known to have originated in China. They were often reserved for the privileged/wealthy class. They did not reach the Western world until the 19th century! And the first mandarin oranges exported were shipped from Tangiers, Morocco (where Tangerines get their name). Tangerines are the most common variety of Mandarin orange found in the US.
Here in China these yummy fruits symbolize health, long life & good luck! If the leaves are intact, that can also signify long-lasting relationships, fruitfulness & wealth. Many people give Mandarin oranges as gifts, and you will see them displayed in homes & stores. The word for tangerine in Chinese (橘子 júzi) has a similar sound as luck/gold and the word for orange (橙子 chéngzi) sounds like the word for wealth.
Other Auspicious Foods:
Symbolic significance is sometimes based on appearance, or by the sound of the word. They are meant to communicate hope & prosperity in the coming year. Here are a bunch of foods that carry well-known meaning in Chinese culture:
A whole Chicken - togetherness/happiness, it is bad luck to cut them, so you will not sever the luck to come. Head, tail & feet intact!
Clams & Spring rolls - wealth, because of their resemblance to bouillon or gold bars.
Noodles - longevity, they are stretched but never cut.
Lettuce - sounds like "rising fortune" which is a lucky event.
Fish - this word (鱼 yú) sounds like wish & abundance. It is also served whole, with head & tail attached, eyes too.
Sweet cakes/Sticky rice - a rich/sweet life, with layers representing rising abundance, and the round shape signifying family reunion & completion.
Duck - fidelity
Eggs - fertility
Jiaozi/Dumplings - sometimes a coin is placed inside the center of one, and whoever bites into this jiaozi will have an exceptionally lucky year. Eating them brings the promise of wealth & prosperity.
Bamboo shoots & Black moss seaweed - wealth
Bean Curd/Tofu - avoided because its white color suggests death & misfortune.
Lychee nuts - close family ties
Peanuts - a long life
Seeds (watermelon, lotus) - having a large # of children
Yum yum!! Eat healthy, live happy.