Why are roast chicken and duck served with their heads on in Chinese restaurants?
In China, food that looks and tastes fresh, and is actually “real” food, instead of artificially manufactured products, is very important. Also people do not like to waste any part of an animal, so Chinese restaurants will often serve up an entire animal such as a chicken or duck – head, feet and all! But there is yet another reason why you might see a whole cooked chicken placed on a table and that’s because it symbolizes family togetherness!
In fact, Chinese people strongly believe in symbolism and use the way they present foods, to offer and receive good fortune. This is never more important than during Chinese New Year when everyone wants to step into the New Year with as much luck as possible!
Chinese food symbolism
Chinese culture is packed full of food symbolism! A meat ball indicates a reunion, fresh fruit brings new beginnings, pork offers strength and wealth and if you’re offered an uncut noodle, long life may be yours!
But where does each meaning come from? Well some link back to stories from ancient China but most meanings are actually a kind of play on words. For example, as Christian families enjoy a Christmas lunch all together; over Chinese year, whole families come together to share a meal and this is represented by the whole chicken on the table. And take the special cake eaten at Chinese New Year, nian gao which means high, and eaten by people hoping to reach their goals in the coming year! Or long, uncut noodles are said to bring a long life.
Around the world…
All cultures have special foods thought to bring good fortune or offer religious meaning. Christians may eat pancakes before lent and during the Jewish new year, fruit is dipped in honey to make the new year a sweet one. Can you think of any ‘lucky’ foods or dishes that have special meaning to you and your family?
By Deborah L. Caine (Whyzz writer)