Food Fun & News
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 dish 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.