The Chinese Tray of Togetherness – a round tin box with dried fruits, roasted watermelon seeds and other treats for the Lunar New Year celebration.
The Spring Festival, also known as the Lunar New Year, is the most celebrated holiday in Chinese communities worldwide. This year, the first day of the two-week celebration falls on February 12. Many activities are part of the celebration, such as putting up decorations, having a reunion dinner with family, and giving “lucky money” red envelopes.
Aside from these primary activities, assembling the Tray of Togetherness is also an important ritual. The Tray of Togetherness is a red or a black box comprised of six or eight compartments.
Traditionally, sweets are part of the box to bless one to have a sweet life. Like many celebratory foods eaten during this time, each food included in the box bears a homophonic pun with a specific good omen.
The box is presented to guests when they visit the host’s home as a way for the host to pass on luck and blessings. While the pandemic prohibits people from visiting one another, the box is still put together because it also implies luck and fortune will come to the home the year ahead.
What’s inside the Tray of Togetherness
To assemble the box, families generally choose treats related to fortune, family ties and health. Some examples are:
Red watermelon seeds – Red symbolizes happiness, and the word ‘seed’ in Chinese stands for fertility.
Dried candied lotus seed – Also related to fertility, the white lotus seeds carry an additional symbolic meaning: to have many descendants.
Dried candied coconut – Come in the forms of strips and chunks; these imply togetherness, where a family of generations are bonded together.
Dried candied lotus root – The homonym for lotus root is abundance year after year.
Dried candied winter melon – The dried candied winter melon pieces are rectangular strips as if they represent an individual from head to toe. They are a symbol of good growth for children and good health for all.
Dried kumquats – In Chinese, the word kumquat is translated as “gold orange,” which symbolizes luck and wealth.
Other Lunar New Year Foods
Along with the sweets eaten in the Tray of Togetherness, other traditional snacks are part of the celebration, including:
Year Cake (Nian Gao or Chinese Glutinous Rice Cake) – The year cake implies prosperity year after year. It can be enjoyed as a sweet or a savoury item, as a New Year dish, or as an all-year-round food, depending on regional culture.
In Cantonese cuisine, the year cake is enjoyed explicitly during the New Year. Comprised of glutinous rice flour and brown sugar, the year cake is sliced into pieces before serving. Generally, the slices are steamed or pan-fried.
For the pan-fried method, specifically, the year cake slices are dipped into an egg wash before cooking for a crispy exterior and a chewy interior.
Crispy triangles – Like the year cake, crispy triangles can be savoury or sweet, depending on the fillings typically used in the regional culture. From the umami-flavoured filling with Chinese sausages, pork and shitake mushrooms to the sweetness offered by the peanut, sesame and sugar filling, these fillings are wrapped inside a glutinous rice dough before they are deep-fried in a wok.
The crispy triangles resemble the gold-coloured, boat-shaped ingots, a currency used in ancient China. Eating these symbolizes wealth will come generously to one.
Sesame doughnuts – Finally, sesame doughnuts, also known as “laughing dates,” are deep-fried, wheat flour-based crunchy balls. When one takes a bite, the balls look like a laughing mouth, depicting bringing happiness and laughter to the family.
Wishing you and your families a happy and prosperous New Year!
Guest blog written by Novella Lui, RD, MHSc – Novella is a registered dietitian and a nutrition communications strategist who is passionate about creating engaging content for a wide array of audiences. You can find her at www.novellard.com or on Instagram @LiveToNourishRD.