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Eating out for "Nianyefan" E-mail
City Life - Culture
Written by Local Ren
Nianyefan is the Chinese term for the dinner on the eve of Chinese New Year (CNY). Marking the end of the year and the coming of the new lunar year, it is regarded as the most important reunion meal for Chinese families and is traditionally cooked at home as a big event, with delicacies usually unavailable and different from everyday dishes.

Traditionally, Chinese will travel from all over the country to be with their families for the meal, which always includes a fish dish - considered a symbol of prosperity - and plenty of toasting with rice wine. Until a few years ago, almost every family in the city ate at home, while restaurants shut for the evening. When I was a little kid, I always looked forward to the CNY for good meals and some other entertaining things.

Festival traditions have changed much over the years - and it shows in people's dining tastes. Dining out has become trendy in recent years and an increasing number of families prefer to celebrate in restaurants, because these people are keen on leading a relaxed life style, as preparing dinner for the festival at home is too complicated and tiring. That is why they would love to "give Mom the night off" and enjoy the convenience of eating "nianyefan" at a restaurant rather than cooking by themselves.

Many of the better restaurants were fully booked for "nianyefan" even months away from the CNY. Hopeful customers didn't expect the reservation peak to come so early and their requests were turned down again and again, even though the day remained far away. Some big-name restaurants offer a second or third round of dinner service to meet the requirements. The restaurants, in addition to including their famous dishes in the menu, also try to serve some new dishes.

Unfortunately, smaller restaurants are not faring quite so well. Western-styled restaurants suffer the same. While Western food and restaurants have rapidly gained in popularity over the last few years, they still aren't an acceptable choice for most locals to enjoy "nianyefan". The large gathering of family is the main reason to avoid Western restaurants for the meal. What matters is the eating style. "Nianyefan" requires a great amount of toasting and cheering among family members and relatives. That sort of toasting is easier done at the large, round table found in Chinese restaurants.

It is said that in Shanghai, about one-third of local residents - over 5 million take the "in" thing (having "Nianyefan" at restaurants or hotels) every year.  

We are still among the majority of local people who would rather eat at home with a strong flavor of family life before enjoying the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, nicknamed as "Nianyefan on the Screen". Though Shanghai was quieter than usual as rain dampened festivities, we did head out to renowned restaurants to consume more tasty meals in the following festival days that we spend more comfortably than ever before!
Our valuable Editor Local Ren has been with us since Wednesday, 23 January 2013.

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