One of the first things you need to understand about Chinese culture is that luck is everything. Tradition offers us plenty of ways to attract good luck – from feng shui to charms, from lion dances to red envelopes, and even food! So whether you’re going for a fancy feast or a simple meal for Chinese New Year, these are the lucky dishes you should have on your table:
1. Whole Fish
A whole fish is a common staple at any Lunar New Year celebration. The reasons for its presence may vary depending on who you ask. But the important thing to remember is that the Chinese word for fish (“yu”) is pronounced the same way as the word “surplus” – hence symbolizing prosperity and abundance in addition to serving it whole as a representation of togetherness. Another symbolism that’s also very fitting is that fish swim forward, never backward, which is a great principle to bring into the new year.
The common preparation for this dish involves ginger, scallion, and soy sauce bathed in sizzling oil. Check out the recipe here.
We all know this: noodles represent long life and it’s no different when it comes to the Lunar New Year. While you’re always allowed to opt for something else, tradition states that you should serve Longevity Noodles (“sau mein”). These long and bouncy noodles can be cooked in several ways. If you ask me, stir-fried is the way to go. Plus! Learning how to cook this also comes in handy for birthdays. Check out the recipe here (you can also work out a vegan option by opting for egg-free noodles.)
P.S. You can forget those Western table manners for a bit and slurp away!
3. Glutinous rice cake (Nian gao or tikoy)
Sweet and sticky! Fried chewy goodness! Nothing says Chinese New Year like tikoy, or as it’s known in Mandarin: “nian gao,” where “gao” sounds a lot like the word for “a taller/higher year” signifying prosperity. Another belief is that luck will stick to you so you may bring it along the entire year.
There are many different ways to prepare tikoy and you’re most likely familiar with the lumpia wrapper and/or egg-coated way. But other countries opt to steam them in little leaf cups like bibingka. Check out that method here.
4. Citrus fruit
Fruits have always been a common holiday gift that spills onto Lunar New Year. As the tradition goes: arrange for 12 round fruits to be on your table as the new year strikes. Why round citrus fruits? That’s because roundness looks full, meaning prosperity, and the colors of citrus fruits are such a bright hue, meaning happiness.
There’s also a special reverence for tangerines (its Chinese name sounds like “luck”) and oranges (sounds like “success”), but any round citrus fruit should do.
Dumplings have long-held reverence in Chinese culture. Aside from being a staple meal, dumpling-making techniques have literally been passed down for generations and have been a family bonding activity in the same span of time. It continues to have a spot on the table for its semblance to ingots, gold historical currency in the shape of a crescent, which is why having more dumplings means more wealth for you.
You can never go wrong with any kind of dumpling, but if you want to start with the basics, this is a good reference.
6. Spring Rolls
While dumplings represent ingots, spring rolls on the other hand represent the bars of gold also used as currency back in ancient China. The golden crisp only adds to that theory and it’s super easy to customize to your personal taste from pork and mushrooms to vermicelli noodles and vegetables.
Chinese cuisine is rich with many types of poultry dishes, it all boils down to preference. You’ll find that a lot of restaurants offer delicious Peking Duck, served thinly sliced in little wraps with hoisin sauce and scallions. This dish is considered lucky for its reddish hue, which as you might know is the luckiest color in Chinese culture.
Another big alternative is a whole chicken, which sounds like the word “good luck” and its unseparated nature represents a similar virtue to that of the whole fish: togetherness, and in some cases, reunion. Regardless of what way you serve it, any chicken dish is welcome to the table because of its reverence in Chinese culture where it serves as the main meal offered to ancestors.
Much like Christmas leftovers, Chinese New Year actively encourages leftovers for the simple reason of representing surplus to carry into the new year. Less cooking, more luck!
Which of these dishes have a spot on your table? Let us know!