Lunar New Year is just around the corner, are you all prepared for it?
Lunar New Year is the time of the year where families from far and near would travel to be with loved ones to welcome in the new year. While there are many rituals and festivities during this week, the big reunion dinner is the main event of Lunar New Year.
The big reunion dinner is traditionally eaten after ancestor worship. People usually prepare foods/dishes (年菜 Nián Cài) that are homophonic with the New Year greetings to pray for prosperity and good fortune for the coming year. We listed 12 foods to eat on the Lunar New Year below which can help you prepare for it:
1. Whole Fish
Nián Nián You Yú (年年有餘), which translates to having a surplus of food and wealth, is a common greeting we say to wish others an abundant year ahead during Lunar New Year. And since in Mandarin, the pronunciation of "fish (Yú 魚)" sounds like the word "餘" (surplus), steamed fish is one of the most classic LNY dishes. One thing to remember is you must not finish the fish — because you must have some leftovers to have a surplus ("餘")!
2. Rice Cakes & Turnip Cakes (年糕&蘿蔔糕)
Another greeting we say is Bú Bú Gao Sheng (步步高升), which literally means ‘getting higher step after step.’ This is often said to wish people rise higher at work/get continuous promotions. Since the pronunciation of cake (Gao 糕) sounds like the word high (高), rice cakes are considered as a lucky food for LNY! For the same reason, turnip cakes (蘿蔔糕) also make a good LNY dish. Additionally, the pronunciation of turnips (Cài Tóu 菜頭) in Taiwanese/Hokkien sounds like 彩頭 (Cai Tóu), which means good luck.
3. Dumplings (餃子)
Dumplings are a common comfort food for many Asians, but they are also indispensable during Lunar New Year celebrations! Dumplings are also called 元寶 (Yuán Bao) because its shape resembles the gold ingot in Ancient China. Legend has it that the more dumplings you eat during LNY, the more money you can make in the year ahead.
Dumplings also correspond to the LNY greeting “招財進寶 (Zhao Cái Jìn Bao),” which literally means invite fortune, enter treasure.
4. Whole Chicken
In Taiwanese/Hokkien, “Chicken (Ge 雞 )” is homonymous with “home (Ge 家).” Many Taiwanese households would eat chicken as it symbolizes the togetherness and unity of the family. Having a whole chicken also means “being persistent in something (有頭有尾).”
5. Hot Pot (火鍋)
Hot pot or steamboat is a common celebratory tradition. Especially in China, where it is still cold during Lunar New Year, hot pot is the perfect meal. This cooking method is also perfect for large gatherings as it doesn’t require as much preparation and still ensures a large quantity of food. Also, since there are many different ingredients in hot pot, it also symbolizes “reunion.”
6. Spring Rolls (春捲)
Spring rolls are another popular traditional Lunar New Year dish. There are different versions across different cultures (Chinese vs Vietnamese) and even different regions (North and South Vietnam) and they are frequently consumed at other times of the year as well. The cylindrical shape of these spring rolls represents gold bars, which symbolizes wealth.
7. "Buddha's Temptation" / "Buddha Jumps Over the Wall" (佛跳牆)
Buddha Jumps Over the Wall, aka Fo Tiao Qiang 佛跳牆 in Mandarin, is considered one of the most notable dishes served during the Lunar New Year. It is a herbal soup dish that is usually found on special menus and people sometimes even have to pre-order from restaurants! The preparation for this dish is time-consuming and complicated as it contains more than 10 ingredients that need to be simmered long and slow with the right amount of heat over long hours until the ingredients fall apart tender. This unique name of the dish comes from a legend. It is said that the fragrant smell of the dish was so powerful that it induced a Buddhist monk to climb over the monastery wall to get a taste of it.
8. Bánh Chưng
Bánh chưng is a traditional Vietnamese cake which is made from sticky rice, mung beans, pork wrapped in dong leaves. Bánh chưng symbolizes the earth as all the products can easily be found in nature. It can be eaten hot or at room temperature and can even be fried. Usually before consuming, bánh chưng is placed in the family altars in order to honor the ancestors and pray them to support the family in the new year.
9. Yusheng (鱼生) the “Prosperity Toss”
Yusheng, which also has other names YeeSang or LouHei, is a Cantonese-style dish found during LNY. This raw dish is ONLY consumed during this time and the significance of fish is as mentioned above. This celebratory dish is most commonly found in Malaysia and Singapore.
10. Chinese Mustard Green & Leek (芥菜、刈菜&韭菜)
Both leek and Chinese mustard greens symbolize a very long time (長長久久), a phrase people often use to wish elders longevity. In Mandarin, the pronunciation of “leek” (韭 Jiu) sounds like the word “long” (久 Jiu). Therefore, when eating leek, the slower you eat, the longer your life is. Chinese Mustard Greens also has another name which roughly translates to “long year vegetable (長年菜).” For that reason, when eating this dish, you must eat the entire vegetable in one bite and can’t cut it off as it represents your life (長長久久 Cháng Cháng Jiu Jiu). Chinese mustard green has a unique bitterness, however, the more you cook the sweeter it gets. Therefore, it also symbolizes “with sufferings come happiness.”
Many might not know it, but crab symbolizes good fortune and wealth. Its eight walking legs symbolize prosperity and two grasping claws represent wealth as its mandarin pronunciation is homonymous with “money (錢 Qián).” Other than that, because it turns red after you cook it, it symbolizes good fortune! Since “crab (Xie蟹)” is homonymous with “harmonious (He Xie和諧),” eating crabs also serves as a visual signifier of a harmonious family.
Giving fruits like mandarin oranges to family and friends during this celebratory time is significant because all these fruits represent something. For instance, the orange hue of mandarin oranges symbolizes gold. Therefore, when giving oranges to your loved ones it is like you are literally giving them wealth. And the character of mandarin oranges “橘” sounds like “吉”, which means luck, oranges are considered as a symbol of good fortune and luck. People would also say大吉大利 (Dà Jí Dà Lì), to wish others a big fortune in the upcoming year.
Some other examples:
- Apples: In mandarin, “蘋” and “平” are homophones, people would eat apples and say 平平安安 (Píng Píng An An), which wishes one can live a peaceful and harmonious life. - Pineapple: In Taiwanese/Hokkien, pineapple reads 旺來 (Ong Lái), which means good fortune will come.