Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Chicken Heads and Chinese New Year
I'm looking at YOU!
Happy Chinese New Year to all! Last night I went to my parents' house for Chinese New Year's Eve dinner. In my family, food is very important, and I'll admit it - I've been spoiled with good food my whole life. For example, growing up, our middle-class family had fresh, whole crab and lobster dishes at Chinese restaurants about once every couple of months, at least (usually for someone's birthday, or even if the restaurant just had a special). This year, my dad served eleven dishes plus dessert for our family of four people and one overfed pug dog. For those of you who have heard my chicken head story before, rest easy - I was safe this year! This is what happens in previous years though. It is a Chinese New Year's dinner tradition to serve a whole poached chicken including its head. It's served cut up into pieces (bones, meat, and skin together), which is the typical way to serve duck and chicken, so that one can pick it up with chopsticks. Only at Chinese New Year's dinners, at least in my family, is the head included on the plate. I believe this has to do with honoring the fact that the animal used to be a living being, therefore allowing for a greater appreciation for that animal and for the meal. I love this sentiment, and in fact am opposed to how removed our society has become from the origins of our food in general. So, I appreciated this concept as a little girl, but I still found it a bit morbid to have a severed head (any severed head, really) displayed on the plate, albeit only once a year. I was convinced that the chicken always managed to be orientated so that it was looking at me. It became a bit of a personal tradition to complain about this. "Loooook, the chicken's staring at me again!" Then, one year, the chicken confirmed all of my suspicions. I always sat across the table from my brothers, and the chicken was positioned in the middle so that we each had an eye towards us. But the eye on my brothers' side was actually closed, while the eye towards me was open! I couldn't believe it. Anyhow, this year's dinner was great, and my parents only served a quarter of a chicken without a head, so no evil chicken eye for me this year - yay!