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6 Traditional Foods for Chinese New Year

by Winnie Wong | February 4, 2019

It’s an exciting time of the year for Chinese family gatherings and celebrations, where family members gather for the New Year’s Eve dinner .

The food on the menu is usually very well thought out for this most important holiday in the year, with the names and appearance being symbols of wishes for prosperity, happiness and success for the coming year. Every region of China, and each household have different customs and traditions.

Here are the six most popular foods people eat in China during the Chinese New Year.

1. Dumplings

Dumplings symbolise wealth and prosperity as they look like ancient Chinese ingots/money. It is also the time for family union where it is customary to wrap dumplings together for Chinese New Year as a family, especially with northern Chinese people, where the dish is most popular at this time.

2. Glutinous Rice Ball (Tangyuan)

While dumplings are more popular for celebrating Chinese New Year in the north, Tangyuan (sweet glutinous rice balls) are popular amongst the southern Chinese. Eating Tangyuan symbolises family reunion and wishing peace and happiness in the family.

3. Rice Cake (Nian Gao )

The eating of rice cakes (Nian Gao), is to wish for a better year ahead, as the rice cake in Chinese symbolises getting a better life, grades at school, income, and career in the year ahead.

4. Fish (年年有余 Nian Nian you yu)

There is a saying about eating fish, 年年有余 (nian nian you yu), which means may you always have more than you need! Eating Fish on Chinese New Year symbolises a surplus of wealth and prosperity and should be the last savoury dish served. You should always leave a few pieces on the plate at the end of the meal, to ensure a surplus of wealth and prosperity for the year, expressing the hope that the year will start and finish with a surplus amount of wealth and you will have a prosperous life.

There are some rules for eating fish during Chinese New Year.

  • – The head and tail of the fish shouldn’t be eaten until the beginning of the year, which expresses a wish thet the year will start and finish with surplus.
  • – The head should be placed toward distinguished guests or elders, representing respect.
  • – The position of the fish shouldn’t be moved while eating it.
  • – The two people who face the head and tail of fish should drink together as this is considered lucky.
  • – Diners can enjoy the fish only after the one who faces the fish head eats first.

5. Longevity Noodles

These noodles symbolise longevity and health. The strands should be eaten whole and not bitten in half or cut. They are also eaten on birthdays as a celebration for a healthy life.

6. Mandarin Oranges (大吉大利 da ji da li)

Eating mandarin oranges symbolise fullness and wealth. There is a saying “大吉大利 da ji da li “, meaning eating mandarins to wish for great luck and a thriving year ahead.

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