Pick up a piece of chicken with chopsticks, dip it into a condiment made by combining minced ginger, diced shallot and soy sauce, then tear up the light-colored, nearly white skin and bite the tender meat.
It makes Zou Xiaolu's mouth water whenever the 25-year-old southern Chinese girl thinks of "white cut chicken", a dish in Cantonese cuisine
The dish is Zou's favorite but she said it's difficult to find well-made "white cut chicken" in Beijing where she works, as it is always overcooked.
"The Spring Festival Eve is the most exciting day in the year," says Zou, who moved from Guangzhou to Beijing after graduating three years ago, but returns home every year to celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year with her family.
Then, Zou, along with her parents, grandparents and her uncle's family, sit around the table to enjoy the Spring Festival Eve dinner.
"It (the meal) is not only a family reunion but also a moment to satisfy my 'Cantonese stomach'," she says.<
There is a saying in Cantonese: "It is not a banquet without chicken."
Guangdong people's love for chicken can be seen in their numerous ways of cooking it－boiling, steaming, salt-roasting, stewing and stir-frying, usually seasoned with soy sauce, scallion oil or "sand ginger", a special kind of ginger grown in Guangdong that is more pungent than other varieties.
The warm and humid weather of Guangdong may also have something to do with the local preference for chicken over beef and mutton. The latter two generate dryness and heat in the body, from the point of view of traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. Thus, they are more popular in northern China where the winters are severe.
Since this year is the Year of the Rooster, according to the Chinese zodiac that features 12 animals, chicken will undoubtedly be the center of attraction at the table for the Spring Festival Eve dinner in Guangdong.
Besides chicken, a typical menu for the Spring Festival Eve dinner in Guangdong includes fish, shrimp, pork knuckle, pork tongue, dried oysters and rice cake.
Why? Because these ingredients' names sound like "lucky" words in Cantonese, the dialect of Guangdong.
Like in Mandarin, the word for fish sounds like "surplus" and the word for cake sounds like "high" in Cantonese. Therefore, a dish made using fish symbolizes a new year with lots of foods and money.
A dish made using rice cake means you want the children to grow taller and the adults to get promoted at their workplaces.
Only Cantonese-speaking people understand the "lucky" words which sound like the ones for shrimp, pork knuckle and dried oysters because the Mandarin versions are different.
The word for shrimp sounds like "hah", while the word for pork knuckle sounds like the phrase for "do it easily". The word for "tongue" is pronounced like the word "profit", and the word for dried oyster sounds similar to the word for "good business".
"Guangdong also likes to give 'lucky names' to dishes served at the Spring Festival Eve dinner. It is nice to share these dishes with loved ones as if we are sharing good luck," says Wen Zhibin, president of Wen Qifu Restaurant, a restaurant chain in Guangzhou specializing in Cantonese cuisine.<
This year, the restaurant has 10 set menus for the Spring Festival Eve dinner, priced from 1,388 yuan (2.38) to 3,988 yuan per table. The dishes all have "lucky" names. For instance, a dish called "make money easily" is made with stewed pork knuckle and lettuce, whose Chinese name shengcai sounds like "earn money" in Cantonese.