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Blasting our way in to the Chinese New Year

Chinese people certainly know how to party!

On the eve of the Dragon New Year anarchy reigned supreme. As the good folk of Dali set off every firecracker they could get their hands on, from super rockets that lit up the night sky, to tiny throw downs and huge boxes of noise reminiscent of battle; it was often hard to see through thick clouds of burning phosphorous. Some firecrackers were even inserted in to tomatoes to add to the general red mess.

At times it was scary, but good scary, as some drunken revelers threw all caution to the wind and held twelve ball shooters like guns and fired in to the masses. This cracker craziness started in the day and was pretty much relentless until the following morning. Good childish times were had by all.But there’s more to the festivities than fireworks; eating was easily the highlight of our celebrations. Before we set out for the night we were fortunate to share a meal cooked by some Chinese friends. And even though we broke with tradition and shared a tasty hot pot meal, the atmosphere was still very festive.

Normally for the new year’s eve meal, otherwise known as the reunion dinner, there are a several dishes that are significant in Chinese culture;

Buddha’s delight (luóhànzhāi) An elaborate vegetarian dish served by Chinese families on the eve and the first day of the New Year. It’s a type of black, hair-like algae, pronounced fat choy in Cantonese, the name of the dish sounds like prosperity, and you know how Chinese are in to that.

Fish is usually eaten or merely displayed on the eve of Chinese New Year; the pronunciation of fish in Mandarin sounds like surpluses.

Leek Is usually served in a dish with round pieces of Chinese sausage. The pronunciation of leek sounds like calculating (money), and the type of sausage is chosen because it is traditionally the best way for storing meat over the winter, as well as the slices resembling coins.

Dumplings (Jiaozi) are eaten traditionally at midnight and Chinese people believe the preparation is similar to packaging luck inside the dumpling. Some families insert one coin in to their dumplings and the person who receives the ‘lucky’ dumpling is meant to have good fortune in the coming year.

Mandarin oranges are the most popular and abundant fruit during Chinese New Year – the translation of golden tangerine or orange sounds like luck or fortune in Mandarin.

Melon seeds (guāzi) and variations including sunflower, pumpkin and other seeds symbolize fertility and having many children. It seems to be the most common snack with a celebratory beer or plum wine. The ideal combination for making babies!

Noodles Families sometimes serve uncut noodles as one of the many dishes on the table, because they represent longevity and long life.

Turnip cakes (luóbogāo) A dish made of shredded red radish and rice flour, is usually fried and then cut into small squares. Vegetables like radish and red carrots are used a lot at this time of year due to their lucky colour.

Bakkwa (ròugān) Is a Chinese salty-sweet dried meat, sort of like jerky, which is trimmed of fat, sliced, marinated and then smoked for later consumption or given as a new year gift.

Raw fish salad (Yusheng or Yee sang) Eating this salad is said to bring good luck, it’s usually eaten on the seventh day of the New Year, but may also be eaten throughout the entire Spring Festival period.

For us, simply eating anything with friends and wandering in to the night was special; being part of the general atmosphere and chaos was an experience we are unlikely to forget. And two days on it looks like the party isn’t slowing up any day soon!


I was too cautious to venture in to the chaos with my camera at night, but our friend from The States – Trygve – wasn’t concerned. These dynamic night time photos are courtesy of Tryg, who is currently travelling long term with a friend through Asia. You can read more about their journey here.

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