MANILA, Philippines - With less than two weeks left before the Year of the Water Dragon, the Chinese (and other believers of Chinese superstition) are beginning to plan their Lunar New Year menus, which revolve around attracting good luck and deflecting negative energy.

A dish or food item is considered "lucky" either because of its appearance, or the way the Chinese word for it sounds. The Chinese word for fish, yu, for instance, sounds like the word for riches and abundance.

Koi fish in particular represents good fortune, wealth and prosperity. As a result, many shops and restaurants serve items shaped like koi -- from nian gao (a glutinous rice cake more popularly known in the Philippines as tikoy, which is also considered lucky by the Chinese) to pudding and cupcakes.

"Koi, or anything that looks like koi, will bring good luck," Hong Kong-based feng shui master Joseph Chau Kam Ching told

The prosperity toss (or yusheng in Mandarin, lo hei in Cantonese) is a salad containing strips of raw fish, shredded vegetables, and a variety of sauces and condiments. Because of the way the Chinese word for it sounds, the prosperity toss is considered a symbol of prosperity and abundance.

After the dish is prepared, all diners at the table stand up, toss the ingredients and say their wishes.

The ubiquitous Chinese noodles, which are also served during birthdays and other special occasions, are believed to represent long life. It is said that bad luck will come to those who cut the noodles, so eating them may be a little messy.

Fresh fruits such as tangerines and oranges are also popular, as well as trays containing candy, peanuts, pistachios and chocolate coins. All these represent wealth because of their shapes and bright colors.

Chicken symbolizes togetherness when served whole (including the head and the feet), while dumplings with minced meat and vegetables are said to attract more money because they look like silver ingots.

Spring rolls and egg rolls resemble gold bullion and are said to bring more wealth. The same goes for lettuce since sang choi, the Cantonese word for it, sounds like the word for rising fortune.

"Lettuce with root is lucky. Chinese celery and spring onion represent intelligence and hard work, and red carrot symbolizes prosperity. Lotus root is for good relationships," Chau explained.

Rice, meanwhile, is said to bring "permanent prosperity." Chau said a container must be full of rice and accompanied by an ampao, or a red money envelope.

Some of these "lucky" dishes and more will be served in Chinese restaurants across the country, including Mandarin Oriental Manila's Tin Hau.

The "New Year's Five Happiness Combination Platter," for one, contains barbecue suckling pig, roasted pork asado, marinated jellyfish, golden fried shrimp mousse and black moss rolls, and crispy fried anchovies. Tin Hau claims that the platter is a symbol of bountiful harvest and family togetherness.

Other Chinese New Year dishes in the restaurant include deep-fried treats -- from crab meat to scallops and shrimp -- which represent wealth and abundance, according to the Chinese. The all-too-familiar suckling pig, abalone, fried rice and tikoy will also be served.

"An event is not just an event. It's an experience," Chico Angeles, food and beverage director of Mandarin Oriental Manila, said about their annual Chinese New Year celebration.

The Year of the Water Dragon will begin on January 23 and will end on February 3, 2013. Feng shui experts have stressed that while it is good to rely on ancient Chinese beliefs, one must still work hard to get ahead in life.


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