The Chinese New Year is almost upon us, and with it comes the anticipation of wealth, good luck, family gatherings and tables filled with good food.
An integral part of the celebration of the 16-day festival are the special dishes, often called “lucky food,” which are all believed to bring good luck for the entire household, according to China Highlights.
It is important to note that each facet of these dishes matters and holds deep symbolism for the Chinese, from the food item’s selection and preparation, to their serving and consumption.
To offer a glimpse of what a traditional Chinese New Year table looks like, here’s our list of 7 lucky dishes that are must-haves to complete the festivities.
Good Fortune Fruit for wealth.
Oranges, tangerines, and pomelos are most favorably eaten during the Chinese New Year particularly because of their round and “golden” color, which symbolizes fullness and wealth for the Chinese.
It is also due to the supposedly lucky sound they bring due to their pronunciation. The Mandarin word for orange is “chénzi”, which sounds like the Chinese word for “success” (chénggōng), while in writing, on way of writing tangerine contains the Chinese character for luck.
The Chinese would either eat tangerines and oranges or keep them on display on the table to invite good fortune into the household.
Glutinous Rice Cakes for better work pay or position.
The Chinese term for glutinous rice cake, “niángāo”, kind of sounds like the term for “getting higher year-on- by year”, which is “niánnián gāo”. This not only implies promotions and salary increases but also anything in general that relates to growth, such as children’s height, better grades in school and others.
That’s why locals associate rice cakes with improvements in life such as prosperity in business and success in the workplace, which includes a higher salary or position. The niangao is made with sticky rice, sugar, lotus leaves, and chestnuts.
Chinese Dumplings for wealth.
A dish with over 1,800 years of history, dumplings , or “Jiǎozi”, are another classic Chinese holiday staple. Traditionally eaten on Chinese New Year’s Eve, dumplings are associated with wealth, with locals saying that the more dumplings you eat during the festivities, the more money to come in the year ahead.
Made with a thin dough skin shaped like a Chinese silver ingot, the dumpling is generously filled with an ample serving of minced meat and finely chopped vegetables.
Make sure there’s a good number of pleats in its edges because if it’s flat, it is considered a sign of poverty.
One can either use pork, chicken, shrimp, beef, fish, and vegetables for the fillings. These delicious finger foods can be cooked by baking, boiling, steaming, or frying.
A common wish associated with eating dumpling is the phrase “Zhāo cái jìn bǎo,” which means “Bringing in wealth and treasure’ — a felicitous wish for making money and amassing a fortune.”
Sweet Rice Balls for family togetherness.
The sweet rice ball’s Chinese translation, “Tāngyuán”, has a pronunciation and tone associated with family reunions and togetherness. Such belief makes the rice balls a favorite Chinese dish during the New Year celebrations.
A common saying while eating Tangyuan is “Tuántuán yuányuán” which directly translates to “Group-group round-round’, which is used like saying “Happy (family) reunion!”
Spring Rolls for wealth.
While traditionally eaten during the Spring Festival (“Spring” rolls, get it now?), spring rolls, or “chūnjuǎn”, are also a must have during the Chinese New Year celebration.
The Cantonese dim sum dish is made with an assortment of vegetables and meat which are used as fillings in thin dough wrappers. Each wrapping is then rolled into a cylindrical shape before being fried into its signature golden-yellow color.
The Chinese say “hwung-jin wan-lyang” as a wish for prosperity, meaning “A ton of gold”.
Longevity noodles for longevity and happiness.
Longevity noodles, being longer than the usual noodles, symbolize wishing for longevity. Many Chinese people believe that the length of the food represents the life of the person eating them.
They are usually prepared uncut and cooked by either frying or boiling, with or without broth.
Fish for prosperity.
Fish gets an all-important spot in the Chinese New Year table simply due to its Chinese pronunciation “Yu”, which has the same meaning for surplus or excess.
Typical fish include carp and catfish which are either boiled, steamed, or braised.
To have more than just basic needs each year, households make it a point to have the fish be the last dish left, with some “excess” left over.
A common phrase used as a blessing in China is “Nian Nian You Yu”, which means ‘May you have surpluses and bountiful harvests every year.”