This Sunday will mark the celebration of Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year marks the end of a seasonal cycle and the beginning of a new one, the planting season. Chinese New Year festivities are laden with customs that will ensure a happy and prosperous year ahead. Many of these celebration involve large family dinners and the exchange of sweets. The foods eaten during the Chinese New Year symbolize health, wealth, longevity and happiness for the family. For example, steamed buns, called Man Tou, represent good luck and fortune or shrimp, called Xia, symbolize wealth and abundance.
Chinese food is significant on another level as well. Chinese food is steeped in a history of cultural, religious and philosophical traditions. The Chinese believe in yin and yang, two opposing but complementary forces in the universe. Life is about balancing opposing forces and, therefore, the foods we eat should also be a balance of flavors and textures. Life is also about the balance of the five elements: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Each of these elements works in conjunction with the other to create balance. For instance, if there is too much Fire, we need Water to tame the fire. The same happens when we eat too many "Fire foods", we need to balance those out with "Water foods."
What is so fascinating about this approach to eating and cooking is that it highlights the importance of food in maintaining health and vitality, and, most importantly, a state of balance to increase our qi (our life force). It is only by eating a varied diet, with all sorts of different whole and seasonal foods that we are able to keep our bodies in balance.