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"Reunion Dinner" on the Eve of Chinese New Year
    2007-02-16 12:45:20     CRIENGLISH.com

A reunion dinner is a must for everyone on Chinese New Year's Eve. [File photo: 0539cn.net/Yang Changyin]
Chinese people from all corners of the world celebrate the Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival according to the Lunar Calendar. Therefore, the lunar New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are as important as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in western countries.

In China, there are different ways to celebrate the Spring Festival as people stick to various local traditions. But a reunion dinner is a must for everyone on Chinese New Year's Eve.

To explore how Chinese are to spend this New Year's Eve, our reporter Chen Xi takes us to a well-known traditional restaurant in Beijing. Here, we will also hear a government official and an expert in Chinese folk customs talking about this unique family reunion dinner.

Reporter:

This year's Spring Festival falls on the 18th of February. So only a few days are left before this much anticipated holiday season begins. Twenty years ago not many Chinese people would have chosen to enjoy this once-a-year fancy dinner outside their homes. However, as pace of life and life style change with time, many families now prefer a more convenient and up to standard dinner out in the restaurants. Even at this time of the year, most of the restaurants here in Beijing are already crowded with diners of different ages.

In this special restaurant which boasts decades of history, almost everything is re-decorated in red, which symbolizes luck and happiness in Chinese culture. Everyone here can actually feel the holiday atmosphere. Not only is the ceiling hung with a number of red lanterns, waiters and waitresses, darting from table to table, have changed from their regular uniforms into red ones. As well, golden Chinese characters meaning best wishes and harvest are printed on the brand-new menus.

For centuries Beijing has been the capital of China. And emperors of different dynasties all had the best cooks at their service. Thus, Beijing cuisine is inevitably influenced by the imperial cooking school. Today many fine restaurants boast that they hold the unchanged royal recipes.

Each change of dynasty in the history of China saw a diverse population flow in from other parts of the country, accompanied by different styles of cooking. For this reason, Beijing cuisine is diverse in nature. By combining variety and quality, Beijing cuisine is among one of the best in China.

Though rice, dumplings or noodles are widely eaten in Beijing, at this particular time of the year, people definitely have more choices. So what kind of holiday dishes does the restaurant offer to the public for the upcoming reunion dinner on the New Year's Eve? [Voice of manager fade in] The manager of this restaurant says he is prepared for serving different customers here as the staff are ready with a variety of set meals.

"Considering that the reunion dinner is basically among family members, both the old and young, but not a gathering between friends or others, we have set the prices to meet different requirements. As you can see, the prices of set meals are 666 RMB, 889 RMB, 999 RMB and 1588 RMB respectively."

Could you elaborate for our listeners in detail if you will, what specific dishes do we have in these different grades of reunion dinners?

"Several of the dishes served on this occasion have auspicious meanings and are indispensable to the night's menu, for instance, Long Year Vegetables, which is mustard greens, to represent intelligence, the Whole Chicken, symbolizing wealth for the whole family and of course, we have also prepared Jiaozi, the Chinese dumplings stuffed with meat and vegetables. Since the shape of the dumplings resembles a gold ingot, eating Jiaozi symbolizes the coming of wealth into one's life..."

The reunion dinner on Chinese New Year's eve is usually a large and lavish meal, flavorful and delicious, because it is not only a dinner but also a family reunion. The whole family sits around the table and enjoys food and chatting. It is indeed a moment of happiness cherished by every Chinese.

So what is the present reservation situation in this restaurant? Are you fully booked up?

"Absolutely, it is really quite hard for me to add some more reservations, as you can see we are fully booked already. We started booking tables since October. Believe it or not, the earliest one we received was on the very evening of the reunion dinner last year..."

In this three-storey fancy restaurant, there are 100 tables which can accommodate around 1000 people at one time.

So the big question is, are more and more Chinese people opting for a dinner out as compared to in the past, when the traditional way was to have this big get- together only at home? Some diners in the restaurant tell us their choices.

"It depends how many family members come back on that day. We would certainly have it in the restaurant if a lot of them return home from their work in other provinces. If not, we just cook at home."

"Generally speaking, my family has the reunion dinner at restaurants most of the time. That's because my apartment is not that big, but my family is. So we prefer to have it outside..."

But still, a lot of people enjoy this dinner at home, since it is in their eyes a pure family time.

"Usually, we cook at home on Chinese New Year's Eve. Every family member is involved in the cooking process."

So why not have the reunion dinner in the restaurant, isn't it much more convenient?

"It really costs a lot eating out. In addition, we do not like the atmosphere in the restaurants, with a lot of strange people and too much noise."

What about the dishes? Everyone knows that Chinese cuisine is popular around the world. So how many dishes does your family prepare for this meal? Are there any specialties?

"In my family, everyone was born in Beijing, so we are all typical Beijing people. Normally, we prepare about 20 dishes for the reunion dinner, both hot and cold. We also have some very unique family-made snacks which no restaurant serves. Furthermore, elder people in the family would very much prefer to keep the traditional way of celebrating. They prefer to share this meal with their grandsons and granddaughters at home and enjoy the family atmosphere..."

Since the reunion dinner is important for the family to be together, it seems that where the gathering takes place isn't terribly important. However since almost every Chinese are enjoying a feast at the moment, ensuring food quality and hygiene has always been the top priority for relevant government departments.

Vice Secretary of the China Cuisine Association, Bian Jiang, says the government has to be very strict with food quality control, especially during the holiday season.

"With the improvement of living condition in the past few years, more and more Chinese people prefer to have this special dinner in restaurants. As such, my department has conducted a series of activities to ensure the food quality standards the catering industry are maintained to better serve the consumers."

Once the safety of food is guaranteed, people then focus on the content and varieties in order to distinguish the special meal with other daily consumptions. Wang Zuoji is a famous expert of folk custom in Beijing. He tells us what Chinese people usually put on table on New Year's eve.

"Talking about this meal, besides the green vegetables and dumplings, fish is absolutely essential on the table. For Chinese, we try to finish every dish, but the only one not included in the cornucopia of food eaten on the New Year's Eve dinner table is the fish dish. People prepare an extra fish and intentionally left it untouched, indicating that there will be more to come in future years, since the Chinese words for fish and surplus rhyme."

"Spring Festival will always be the most important holiday in the Chinese heart. This is not only the intangible heritage passed from our ancestors, but more importantly, a crucial factor in building a harmonious society in China..."

Reunion dinner is the most important event as Chinese people prepares to start a brand new year. The next day, the New Year's Day, the Chinese people will be involved in many other celebration activities of the Spring Festival. Again in terms of celebrations, ways and means vary according to different people and places. But wherever you are, whatever people you join for the festival, we wish you a prosperous and happy Chinese New Year. And of course, a wonderful meal on the New Year's Eve.

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