Happy Chinese New Year!

Tray of Togetherness. Photo courtesy of Barbara Beery Kids Cooking

Today is the first day of the Year of the Snake. As some Chinese friends told me about their preparations for the new year, such as cleaning the house from top to bottom, I noticed some parallels with the Iranian new year, coming up on March 21.

Iran and China have a long history as Silk Road trading partners, exchanging both physical goods and cultural ideas for thousands of years. Of course, they couldn’t help but share ingredients and food traditions! I’ve always been fascinated by this link between Iran and China, which boast two of the world’s dazzling and complex cuisines (in fact, I really want to find a Chinese chef to team up with and put on a dinner that highlights the commonalities between the two cuisines, but that’s another story).

Here are some of the foods that are a traditional part of both the Chinese and Iranian New Year celebration. Check out the many similarities.

Fish: The Chinese eat whole fish, with the head and tail intact. Iranians eat a simple fried white fish, or a more complex stuffed fish, while a goldfish in a bowl is a key part of the haft-sin, ceremonial table that holds seven symbolic foods beginning with the letter “s” in Persian.

Lotus: The Chinese eat dried lotus seeds and sweetened lotus root, while the Iranians eat dried lotus fruit.

Chinese Braised Beef Noodle Soup. Photo courtesy of Chinese Grandma.
Ash-e Reshteh Noodle Soup from Lucid Food. Photo by Jennifer Martiné.

Long Noodles: The Chinese eat long noodles in soup, like in the beautiful photo from the mouthwatering blog Chinese Grandma, and in other dishes like stir-fries. Iranians eat long noodles in ash-e reshteh soup, like the recipe in Lucid Food, pictured above. Notice the similarity between the two soups?

Sweets: Cookies, fruits, and pastries are eaten by both Chinese and Iranians, to bring sweetness in the new year.

Citrus Fruit: The Chinese display the large, grapefruit-like pomelo fruit, and eat tangerines and oranges, while Iranians display an orange on the haft-sin.

Dried Fruits and Nuts: The Chinese have a round tray out to welcome guests on the first day of the year that’s called the Tray of Togetherness, with eight compartments filled with different nuts, dried fruits, and candies. The striking photo of a Tray of Togetherness at the top of the post is from Austin, Texas-based kids cooking doyenne Barbara Beery of Barbara Beery Kids Cooking. The tray reminds me of the platter that Iranians always have ready for visiting guests, filled with pistachios in the shell, other nuts, dates, dried fruits like apricots and mulberries, a couple of different kinds of cookies, and then some cherry tomatoes and small Lebanese cucumbers.

I’m not getting into the symbolism of any of these foods, because I’ve found so many different explanations of what they mean. However, it’s clear that they are all meant to infuse the new year with prosperity, abundance, health, and happiness.

The Western new year is a month behind us, but there are so many of us in America including Iranians, Chinese, and Jews, and probably others, who recognize the new year at a different time. Do you have a New Year food that is part of your yearly celebration, whatever the date? If so, please share, I’d love to hear about it!

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