For many people in Taiwan, the Lunar New Year feast, loaded with symbolism, is the most important meal of the year. Primarily it is a chance for the whole family to get together, remembering those in distant places who cannot make it back to the family home by keeping an empty seat at table. It also serves as a benediction for the coming year, and while much of the food is carefully selected for its rarity and flavor, it is also chosen for the auspicious meanings that it can suggest.
Chicken and fish, usually served whole, represent happiness, family unity and prosperity, noodles and certain vegetables suggest longevity, and a string of ingredients such as oranges and radishes are used because their names can, by some smaller or greater stretch of the imagination, form homophones of various auspicious words.
For many vendors of both fresh and cooked food, the Lunar New Year’s family dinner is also seen as a perfect opportunity to get their hands on government money in the form of the recently issued consumer vouchers. In this, and the desire of many Taiwanese to spend this windfall as quickly as possible, (be it on food or accomodation offers, lucky draws or prizes) Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner 2009 is certainly going to bring prosperity to some.
For those doing their own cooking, the annual Taipei Big Street New Year Shopping Festival (台北年貨大街) is the place to be. As in past years, this event will bring together the considerable resources of five of Taipei’s traditional commercial districts. The center of the vast shopping area is Dihua Street
(迪化街) market, which will link up with Huaying Street (華陰街) market, both of which will open for business at 10am every day. The Taipei Underground Mall (臺北地下街), with more than a kilometer of shops, and the section of Chongqing North Road Section 1 (重慶北路一段) between Changan West Road (長安西路) and Zhengzhou Road (鄭州路), will open for business daily from 11am, and the Ningxia Road night market (寧夏路夜市), which will open from 6pm, complete this large shopping precinct at which everything from snack foods to auspicious wall hangings can be obtained. Shops and stalls will be doing business full-throttle until Lunar New Year’s Eve, with the Taipei City Government estimating that 50,000 thousand people will shop there over the 10-day period of the pre-Lunar New Year shopping blowout. Detailed information can be obtained at the event Web site at www.2009newyear.com.tw.
Two other traditional markets that are especially popular and busy in the run up to the Lunar New Year are the Nanmen (南門市場) and Dongmen (東門市場) markets, both of which specialize in many regional Chinese delicacies. Nanmen market is located at 8, Roosevelt Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路一段8號) and Dongmen Market is located at 81, Ln 79, Xinyi Road Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市信義路2段81號).
To take up the challenge of preparing your own Lunar New Year banquet, check out the Department of Health’s (行政院衛生署) recommended banquet menu, which is estimated to cost under NT$2,000 for a table of 10. Complete details on how to prepare this healthy and inexpensive banquet can be found at the department’s Web site at food.doh.gov.tw/foodnew.
If this feels like too much effort, many hotels and restaurants are providing everything from individual dishes to complete banquets for you to take home. Pretty much every major convenience store and hypermarket chain puts out extensive menus of Lunar New Year dishes, including top-shelf items. Even the ubiquitous 7-Eleven convenience store offers a casserole of abalone, pig’s foot and wild chicken for NT$2,599.