Chinese New Year begins on Jan. 28. On New Year’s Eve, Chinese households worldwide will welcome the Year of the Rooster with a home-cooked family “reunion” feast.
Typical Chinese New Year foods are a mixture of tradition, superstition and edible puns and homophones. Each dish carries symbolic meaning, and they are eaten with the hopes of increasing the family’s fortune, health and prosperity.
Start planning your meal with some essential Chinese New Year dishes from our California Cookbook.
(Most of the recipe ingredients can be found at large grocery store chains, and many are available at these Asian supermarkets.)
Dumplings represent wealth and good fortune because they are shaped like ingots — blocks of gold used as ancient Chinese currency. Assembling the dumplings by stuffing the filling into wrappers is a popular family activity. Dumpling wrappers can be store-bought, but if you'd like to make them at home, try our recipes for Beijing-style pork and cabbage dumplings, Lao Yi's boiled beef and leek dumplings, or shrimp dumplings, or, for a vegan alternative, white lotus dumplings.
Since the Chinese word for fish, 鱼 (yu), is pronounced the same way as the word for abundance, 余 (yu), eating fish symbolizes wealth. The traditional holiday greeting 年年有余 (nian nian you yu) can mean “abundance and prosperity every year,” as well as “may we eat fish every year.” Fish should be prepared whole to represent family unity.
Eating noodles represents hope for a long life, and the longer the noodles are, the luckier. Make sure not to cut or break them during the cooking process — it’s bad luck, symbolizing cutting a life short.
Nian gao is a sticky rice cake. 年 (nian) means “year” and 糕 (gao) means “cake," but nian gao can also mean “sticky cake” or “higher year,” because the pronunciations have double meanings. The cake can be steamed and served as is or cut into slices and pan-fried after steaming.
Tang yuan are sticky rice balls, typically filled with sweet black sesame or red bean paste. The dessert represents family unity, as tang yuan sounds like the term 团圆 (tuan yuan), meaning “reunion.” 圆 (yuan) is also the word for “round” and evokes 圆满 (yuan man), meaning “togetherness” and “harmony.”