In China, millions of people are waking up with bellies full of lobster served at family reunion banquets that kick off the 15-day Lunar New Year Festival.

Unlike in the United States, where most people eat lobster boiled or steamed with butter or on a toasted roll, the Chinese have more than 100 ways to cook their lobster, using it as a central protein in an array of spicy dishes, a seafood to be added to a hot pot, or even plated with a mango couli as a dessert, said Chef Joseph K. Poon of Philadelphia, a Hong Kong native who has cooked more than 100,000 lobster in his career.

On Lunar New Year’s Eve, the official start of the most important Chinese holiday, a family hosting the reunion meal might serve lobsters in several different dishes throughout the 10-course meal, which is often served to more than a dozen people, Poon said. It will pop up in other Lunar New Year meals, too.

“Chinese love lobster!” Poon said. “When Chinese eat lobster, it’s a kind of blessing. Imagine having lobster at the dinner means entire family is very healthy.”

The symbolism of the lobster, which Chinese often refer to as dragon shrimp, is just as important as the taste, Poon said.

In Cantonese, lobster is lung har, which means big dragon, or top of the world, Poon said. In Europe, the dragon is considered evil, but it is revered in China, said Poon, and thus lobster is a highly revered seafood. In the past, only the emperor was allowed to put a dragon on their clothes. Parents love to serve lobster as one way to seek a blessing for their children, because children born in the dragon year are smart, strong and successful, Poon said.

During the Lunar New Year festival, people greet each other with a blessing, lung ma tsing sun, that incorporates a reference to lobster and means be healthy, Poon said. The bright red color of American lobster when cooked – brighter than Australian or European lobsters – helps, too, as the Chinese consider it lucky.

But it also helps that everyone in China, especially the booming middle class, knows how expensive lobster is to buy, Poon said.

“Chinese love to have lobsters on the dinner table representing they can afford it, they are rich,” Poon said. “Serving it for friends is a great honor, shows respect.”

 

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