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More Choices for Chinese Annual Meal

"I would have not been able to book a restaurant for New Year's Eve dinner if I hadn't done it 10 days ago," said Wu Xuelan, a newspaper editor in Beijing, the national capital.


She had been engaged in looking for a suitable restaurant ever since her husband and she decided to invite her parents-in-law to have the New Year's Eve dinner, or "Nianyefan" in Chinese, at a local restaurant.


The Chinese Lunar New Year, or the Year of Dog this year according to Chinese lunar calendar, falls on Jan. 29.


Wu told Xinhua she had reserved a four-person private room at a restaurant offering Shanghai flavor dishes, with the help of a hotline posted on a website catering for people who want to dine out.


The restaurant can not only meet her requirement for price, 120 yuan (US$15) per person, but also offer her a parking space free of charge.


"I prefer to have the annual dinner at a restaurant," said Wu, "so we can go home afterwards to watch TV programs leisurely.


"Otherwise, my parents-in-law would have to go shopping first, then wash, chop and cook days before the New Year with an aim to prepare a lavish dinner," said the 28-year-old lady.


"They (parents-in-law) help me take care of my son for the whole year so I don't want them to do all these chores again during the holiday," she added.


Her idea is echoed by many Chinese, who would rather spend money on "buying time and vacation," thanks to improved living standards.


New Year's Eve dinner is the once-a-year, and the most important, dinner for Chinese and an occasion for family reunion. Chinese try to get home before the New Year's Eve no matter how far he or she has to travel. Many families begin to prepare the meal days before the event. The work is painstaking and time-consuming.


On that special evening, the whole family, usually three or four generations, get together to enjoy a delicious and sumptuous family banquet, which usually includes vegetable, meat and fish which symbolizes wealth, amid the deafening sound of firecrackers.


All people in the family eat, chat and drink, and then watch TV programs specially prepared for the event, staying up till midnight to greet the Lunar New Year.


Nowadays, dining out on this special and enjoyable occasion, instead of keeping the traditional way of eating at home, has gradually become a vogue.


Incomplete statistics show that around 1.1 million Beijingers dined out on New Year's Eve last year, lifting the single day business turnover to 80 million yuan (10 million U.S. dollars).


More than 500 restaurants in Beijing have been booked for the New Year's Eve dinner by the end of December, local media reported. Some hotels and restaurants even began receiving reservations four months ago.


The Quanjude Restaurant, which is famous for Peking roast duck for 140 years, confirmed Friday all of its private rooms had been booked, The same thing happened to Xiaofeiyang, an Inner Mongolia-headquartered chain restaurant.


But industry insiders warn consumers of the tricks that may be used by some profiteers from the holiday. A simple dish with a good name symbolizing fortune, happiness or prosperity, may cost you dear, they said.


A hotel in Hangzhou, the capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, recently provide a dinner costing 198,000 yuan for a single table on the New Year's Eve.


The move, termed by Ma Guoqing, a professor with the Anthropological Department of Zhongshan University in south China's Guangdong Province, as "showing off", has sparked a nationwide debate.


"It sounds too extravagant," Wu Xuelan said. "The aim of dining out is to make the parents happy. If I lavish too much money on the meal, they would feel unpleasant."


Nowadays, people value the amiable atmosphere and the chance of family reunion more than what they eat, Ma said.


Apart from offering New Year's Eve dinner and a take-out service, some restaurants allow chefs to cook at home of local residents. The practice is warmly welcomed by customers.


Despite the convenience of dining out, Yan Kun, a translator of a French-funded company in Beijing, would prefer to eat at home.


"We can eat more leisurely and pleasantly at home and enjoy a dense holiday atmosphere," said the 42-year-old.


"When we dined out last year, We ate fast and even had no time to enjoy the delicious food because lots of customers were queuing up, waiting for the table," she said.


(Xinhua News Agency January 28, 2006)

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