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The Best Of Hong Kong
Lifestyle News
By Yannie Chan | January 26th, 2021

When it comes to eating in Chinese culture, the usual thinking is the more abundant and the more luxurious, the better. Strangely, though, for the first day of Chinese New Year (年初一 neen chaw yut), many families choose to stick with a vegetarian diet and avoid meat. Though it’s not as common nowadays, families usually prepare a vegetarian dish on the night before the first day of CNY, called 守歲齋 (literally, guard year vegetarian dish). 守歲 (guarding the year) is a ritual where people stay up to welcome the new Lunar New Year.

The vegetarian dish is often called Buddhist’s Delight (羅漢齋 law hawn jigh), and is made with the reddish-brown fermented bean curd (南乳 nahm yu), lily petals, cabbages, fried bean curds, cloud ear fungus, mushrooms, and cellophane noodles.

The traditional of going meatless on the first day of CNY originates from Buddhism. Many believers eat vegetarian on the first day and fifteenth day of every lunar month, in order to pay respects to Buddha and to accumulate good karma. Some believe that doing so on the first day of the first lunar month earns you even more good karma, because everyone else would be feasting on meats and seafood.

In reality, the ritual is followed differently in each households. Some is stricter about not eating any meat. For others, it might just mean that the Buddhist’s Delight is a traditional CNY dish alongside turnip cakes and glutinous rice cakes.

See more Heritage snippets here.