10 Lucky Foods to Eat for Chinese New Year
The Lunar New Year is celebrated with a feast of foods that symbolize prosperity, good luck and new beginnings for the year ahead. Here are the top foods to enjoy for Chinese New Year, the symbolism behind them, and the most delicious ways to prepare and enjoy them.
This traditional Chinese food dates back almost 2,000 years. During the Lunar New Year, dumplings are an essential New Year’s Eve food to enjoy during the celebrations. “The classic fold of a Chinese dumpling is shaped like a silver ingot, a currency in ancient China,” explains Chef Thach Tran of Ace Eat Serve in Denver. “The belief is the more dumplings you make and eat, the more money and wealth you will make for the New Year.”
According to Chef Henry Lu of Loosie’s Kitchen in Brooklyn, New York, “Dumplings represent the changing or exchange of new time. By consuming the dumpling you are welcoming the new year and new fortunes.”
Typically, families will gather on Lunar New Year’s Eve to make dumplings together. Wheat flour wraps are filled with regional ingredients such as pork, shrimp, chicken, or vegetables. Sometimes dumplings are folded to look like small purses—another symbol of wealth. They can be steamed, pan-fried, or deep-fried. If you want to start your own dumpling-making tradition, try my Chicken Mushroom Pot Stickers and Vegetable Tofu Dumplings.
“Fish in Mandarin sounds like the word for ‘surplus’—a representation of prosperity,” Chef Lu explains. Eating the whole fish is supposed to consolidate your surplus from the past year and allow you to turn it into even more prosperity the following new year, he says. “It also symbolizes wholeness and completeness.”
Lu says that the fish is typically served as the grand finale near the end of the meal. The cleaned whole fish is steamed with slices of ginger, scallions and oyster sauce. Chef Tara Lazar of F10 Creative remembers her mother making whole steamed fish every Chinese New Year—and she continues the tradition herself. “Fish move forward, never backward. Chinese culture likes this symbolism,” Lazar says.
“Lunar New Year is essentially the beginning of spring, so spring rolls symbolize the start of the year ahead,” explains Chef Andy Xu of DaDong Chinese Restaurant in New York City. Thanks to their golden-yellow wraps and their bar shape, spring rolls are lucky because they represent gold bars, symbolizing wealth. Spring rolls can be made with savory or sweet fillings like pork, vegetables, or red beans. They are typically fried, but you can also bake them and serve with a dipping sauce made with soy sauce or hoisin sauce.
Duck is one of the most popular dishes at Chinese New Year dinner, according to Chef Lijun, because it represents a happy, healthy, and prosperous year. The skin of finished Peking Duck is red, a lucky color in Chinese culture. “We always serve our fresh slow roasted Peking Duck thinly sliced, wrapped in thin pastry, and topped with hoisin sauce, cucumbers, and scallions,” says Chef Lijun. Don’t miss more history behind Chinese New Year.
Lobster and shrimp
Crispy duck isn’t the only red food served at Chinese New Year celebrations. “Crustaceans such as lobsters and shrimp symbolize fortune and luck for the Lunar New Year,” says Chef Helene An of Crustacean Beverly Hills. Learn the surprising reason red is the color of the Chinese New Year.
“Noodles, especially long noodles, are often served on Chinese New Years’s to symbolize the promise of a long life,” says Chef Susanna Foo of Suga in Philadelphia. People will often eat noodles on the second day of the Lunar New Year for longevity. “They represent your hopes and fears wrapped up in the long strand of a noodle,” according to Chef Han Lijun of Z&Y Restaurant in San Francisco.
Be sure to slurp your noodles or the symbolism could work against you, warns Chef Lu. Cutting or biting down on your noodles would be like cutting your life in half. Try this Shrimp Noodle Stirfry for an easy way to celebrate longevity in your kitchen.
Cake, also called Gao in Chinese, sounds like the word for “height.” According to Chinese traditions, eating New Year Cake is a great way to celebrate and it’s lucky since it foretells that the family will reach new heights in the year ahead, according to the lifestyle blog Mimi Strawberry. New Year Cake can come in different forms or flavors, but the most traditional one is made from rice flour. It’s typically pan-fried or steamed until well done. Don’t miss the 8 Chinese New Year celebrations we can all celebrate.
Oranges and tangerines
“Oranges are a symbol of abundance and happiness,” says chiropractor and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner Vincent Caruso Jr. of New Jersey Total Health. The Chinese words for orange and tangerine sound like luck and wealth, so it’s common to bring some of these fruits when you visit other people’s homes during Chinese New Year. Many households will also be decorated with tangerine or kumquat trees. Find out what 2021 has in store for you, based on your Chinese zodiac sign.
Whole poached chicken
“Chicken represents happiness, health, and purity, and serving it whole symbolizes completeness and family unity,” says Wesley Radez, creator of the cultural parenting web site Chinese American Family. Radez recommends gently poaching your chicken in water scented with ginger, green onions, and sesame oil, and serving it with ginger-scallion dipping sauce.
“Grapes symbolize good luck, wealth and prosperity,” says Chef Maneet Chauhan of Tánsuŏ in Nashville. In particular, gold-colored grapes are popular around Chinese New Year because the color is associated with good fortune. Grapes not only represent abundance when it comes to money, but they’re also considered lucky because they’re linked to an abundance in food and a boost in fertility. Grapes are sometimes displayed for feng shui—design harmony—to bring success and good fortune to the family. Next, find out more facts you didn’t know about Chinese New Year.