Lunar New Year is celebrated to welcome a new year as according to the Chinese Lunar calendar. In China, the Lunar New Year plays a very important part in the country. People from every corner would head home to reunite and feast with their families, and holidays would lasted for almost a month during this auspicious festive celebration. Today, Lunar New Year is celebrated by the Chinese worldwide. Streets and houses’ doors or gates are decorated in red “tanglung” (Chinese lamp) and red cloth – symbolizes luck and prosperity.
Food is another essential aspect during the Chinese Lunar New Year. There are certain food that are must-haves according to the tradition as they symbolizes wealth, auspiciousness and good health. These food’s lucky symbolism are based on their appearance and pronunciation in Mandarin, and are believed to be able to carry the auspiciousness to the following year.
Dumplings – Good Wealth
Dumplings, or as called in Mandarin “jiaozi”, are the most common Lunar New Year’s food one will see on the table. They are widely eaten on the New Year’s Eve during reunion dinner, and is widely popular in China, particularly in the Northern China area.
Shaped like the ancient China’s silver coin bar, it has a history of more than 1,800 years. It is believed that the more dumplings you eat in Chinese New Year, the more money you will make in that year because of its shape.
Typically it is filled with vegetables and minced meat, and each filling has its very own meaning. The most popular one is celery (pronounced as “qincai” in Mandarin), which means greater wealth that is obtained through one’s hard working’s effort. Another famous filling is cabbage (pronounced as “baicai” in Mandarin) which symbolizes a hundred methods in making money. Leek (pronounced as “jiucai” in Mandarin) is also used as a filling in Chinese dumplings. It refers to an everlasting abundance.
Fish – Overflowing Fortune
Fish is a must in every reunion dinner table. Fish is pronounced as “yu” in Chinese, which means surplus, and it links to one of Chinese idioms “nian nian you yu” (may you have an abundant and bountiful harvest every year). In the olden days of China, fish was also known to have the ability to remove bad luck.
There are some fishes that hold certain meanings, and they can be either steamed or braised for Lunar New Year. Catfish is regarded as an everlasting fortune due to how it is pronounced in Chinese “nian yu” which means yearly surplus. Crucian carp, which means greater wealth, is also another famous fish type used in the Lunar New Year. Another famous fish to be commonly cooked is Chinese Mud Carp. Its Chinese name is ‘li’, which symbolizes gift, hence it is believed that eating it will bring you good luck.
Glutinous Rice Balls – Complete Reunion
Known as “tangyuan”, this sweet balls dessert rhymes with “tuan yuan” which means reunite, hence it is one of the must have dishes during the Lunar New Year’s reunion night. It is also considered to be a lucky dish to be eaten during the Chinese’s Winter Solstice Festival. The roundness of the balls represents the fullness and completeness one experiences when they reunite with their family members on reunion night.
Glutinous Rice Cake – Career Advancement and Prosperity
One of the notable traditional Chinese Lunar New Year’s food, its history dates back to more than 1,500 years ago, and is used as a food blessing and worship to the gods and ancestors in China. It features a sweet and salty flavour, and is often made with glutinous rice powder though its recipe varies widely throughout the different parts of China. The main ingredients of this dish are chestnuts, sugar, sticky rice, lotus leaves and Chinese red dates.
Chinese Longevity Noodles – Longevity and Happiness
No doubt to all, this Chinese noodle dish refers to the wish for one’s health and long life as true as its name. The length of the noodles and its simple preparation symbolizes to the eater’s life and happiness. Pronounced as “chang shou mien” in Mandarin, it is often uncut and longer than the usual noodle eaten. Either fried or braised, this dish staple consists of vegetables, minced meat and broth. It is known to be a lucky dish to the people of Northern China, and is eaten on every Chinese Lunar New Year’s eve.
Pineapple Tart – Prosperity
A snack which is adored and loved by many during Chinese Lunar New Year, pineapple tart is pronounced as “ong lai” in Hokkien dialect which directly translated as more wealth and prosperity to come, a phrase that is favoured by all in welcoming a new year. It features a sweet and tangy scents – derived from pineapples and sugar, and is wrapped up in a rich buttery crust.
Prosperity Toss Salad / Yee Sang – All-Year Long Success and Auspicious
Prosperity Toss Salad (known as “Yee Sang” to the Chinese) is the most famous and sought-after Chinese Lunar New Year’s dish of all. It resembles everything everyone could asked for during the festive season – wealth, happiness, good luck, health, auspiciousness and fortune.
A Chinese styled salad meant for tossing, Prosperity Toss Salad often includes raw fish slices, sesame oil, plum sauce, carrots slices, roasted nuts or toasted sesame seeds, daikon and many more served and placed separately on a big plate. A sweet and citrus scent that will create a spark to one’s taste bud.
It is meant to be tossed, as the name implies, but there is a meaning behind the concept of this dish. Chinese believes that the higher and vigorous the toss is, the greater the new year will be in terms of fortune, health, luck and auspiciousness.
Even though food may be a simple and normal everyday staple in one’s life, to the Chinese, each of them holds a significant meaning when it comes to certain festive season. There are many more food and fruits that are linked to different symbolism in their respective history or pronunciation which are not included in this post, nonetheless these 7 dishes are the most common ones.
In the Chinese culture and tradition, food is basically what they most take pride in. As a matter of fact, every Chinese Lunar New Year, the Chinese will go extensively just to prepare new year dishes whilst wait for the rest of the family members to return home and reunite over a feast. Thus it is no wonder that a lot of attention and details are put into the effort when one prepares these dishes.
So, if you wish for a better luck and smooth sailing new year, remember to try out all of these 7 dishes on this Chinese Lunar New Year! Gong Xi Fatt Choi to all of you who celebrate and Happy Holiday to all!