7 Traditional Foods to Celebrate the Chinese New Year

Asian Decorations

People all over the world commemorate the start of the New Year by cooking, eating, and sharing foods considered to be lucky in their culture. American southerners dine on collard greens and black-eyed peas because of their resemblance to money. Germans love pork sausage and sauerkraut, while Swedes enjoy large smorgasbords filled with various seafood options.

Lucky foods are a huge part of how Chinese New Year is celebrated, as well. This year, January 28th will find us ushering in the Year of the Rooster. Consider starting it in style with one of the following traditional food options.
  1. Fish

In Chinese, the word for “fish” and the word for “surplus” sound incredibly similar. For that reason, fish are part of Chinese New Year feasts everywhere. (Popular options include catfish and carp.)

Some people like to boil or braise their fish, while others steam it in vinegar sauce. Fish that has been pickled with cabbage and spicy chilis is also a popular option for Chinese New Year. It is traditional to serve the fish dish last (with some left over) as a way to start the New Year properly.
  1. Chinese Dumplings

Dumplings have been a staple in Chinese diets for over 1800 years, so they’re nothing if not traditional. They are especially popular on New Year’s Eve, as they represent money and prosperity to many people of Chinese or Chinese-American descent.

The various types of filling the dumplings may contain come attached to their own special meanings. Dumplings filled with cabbage and/or radish are said to grant the eater a good mood and fair skin in the year to come. Sauerkraut filling is avoided, as it’s said to bring a difficult future.

Fried asian food
  1. Spring Rolls

Spring rolls are named that because they’re traditionally eaten during Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). They can be filled with a variety of different fillings, including meat, vegetables, or even sweets.

They are considered lucky foods because of the way they resemble gold bars once they’re fried. In fact, “a ton of gold” is a traditional wish to be said right before sharing and eating New Year’s spring rolls.
  1. Glutinous Rice Cakes

Glutinous rice cakes are known as “niangao” in China. The rice cakes are eaten as a way to ensure professional success and prosperity in the new year and to wish the same for others. The idea can also be applied to grades in school, growth in height for children, and so forth.

Most glutinous rice cakes are made from sticky rice, chestnuts, dates, sugar, and lotus leaves. However, there are some variations that are also popular.
  1. Sweet Rice Balls

Also known as tangyuan, sweet rice balls are eaten and enjoyed for the Lantern Festival, which takes place on the 15th day of the Spring Festival celebration. However, in southern China, they are instead enjoyed throughout the festival.

Both the round shape of the rice ball and the pronunciation of the word “tangyuan” have strong associations to concepts like family, togetherness, and reunion – exactly why they’re perfect for Chinese New Year!
  1. Long Noodles

Also known as longevity noodles, long noodles predictably are eaten for the way they symbolize a long life for the eater. They are cut to be significantly longer than other types of noodles for this reason.

Some chefs like to fry the noodles and serve them on a plate. Others prefer to boil them and serve them along with a savory, flavorful broth in a bowl. Whatever way you choose to serve yours, take care not to cut them or shorten them in any way.

  1. Citrus Fruit

Citrus fruit – like oranges, pomelos, and tangerines – are traditionally eaten for Chinese New Year, as they’re considered incredibly lucky. They are golden in color just like money. Their juiciness and sweetness are symbolic of concepts like wealth, prosperity, and bounty. They are also easily split and shared among friends. The more of them you eat during Chinese New Year, the luckier you’ll be in the year to come.

Displays that feature these fruits are also considered to be very lucky, so don’t just serve them as part of your Chinese New Year menu. Pile them high in decorative bowls and place them around your house to usher in good luck.