You cannot celebrate Lunar New Year without a banquet full of auspicious and symbolic foods. Every dish chosen on the Lunar New Year dinner table is symbolic and deeply rooted in Chinese culture to bring luck and good wishes for the year ahead.
1. Dumplings: a symbol of wealth
Dumplings are traditionally known as being a lucky food in Chinese culture. This is due to their unique shape that resembles a Chinese gold ingot. A staple food of the North, dumplings are eaten and enjoyed in many Chinese celebrations and festivals, especially CNY.
Some people will hide lucky coins inside dumplings. If the lucky dumpling falls on your plate then you are granted great luck and wealth in the year ahead. Even the filling of the dumplings is assigned a meaning, with different fillings having different symbolism.
- Celery symbolises hard work turning into a wealthy life,
- Leeks symbolise everlasting affluence,
- Cabbage refer to the hundred different ways you can make a fortune.
2. Fish – a symbol of fortune and surplus
You cannot have a family reunion dinner on CNY without fish at the table. The pronunciation of fish in Chinese is similar to the sound of Yu, representing surplus and fortune. In ancient China, fish were also regarded as exorcising negativity, helping to bring in fresh new energy for the year ahead. Fish are traditionally eaten steamed or braised, and just like dumplings, different types of fish have their own symbolism:
- Chinese mud carp is synonymous with gifts, bringing good luck and blessings,
- Crucian carp is akin to good fortune,
- Catfish symbolises a rich life and surplus.
Certain rules are also observed when eating fish on Lunar New Year:
- It is considered unlucky to turn over the fish after eating one side,
- The head of the fish should point towards elders or distinguished guests as a sign of respect,
- In the south of China, only the middle of the fish is eaten on New Year’s Eve. The head and tail are eaten the next day in a symbol of completeness.
3. Glutinous rice balls – a symbol of family reunion
As we have learned, one of the most important aspects of celebrating Lunar New Year is being reunited with family around the dinner table. Glutinous rice balls are one of the lucky foods that symbolise this familial relationship, also eaten during the Lantern Festival. The round shape of the food is symbolic of completeness and the reunion of family, coming full circle to be together. The dough is made from glutinous rice powder, stuffed with brown sugar, bean paste, and different fruits and nuts before boiling.
4. Noodles – a symbol of longevity
A long life is a good life, and noodles are a symbol of longevity in China. Besides the CNY dinner table, longevity noodles are often also eaten on birthdays to symbolise a smooth year ahead and a long and happy life. Note: These are no ordinary noodles. Longevity noodles are made from one single and continuous noodle that has to be eaten from beginning to end without breaking. Break the noodle and you’ll disturb the effect of longevity.
5. Wontons – a symbol of wealth and treasure
Just like dumplings, wontons are considered to be a lucky food due to their similar shape to Chinese ingots – this time silver ingots. In Chinese, wonton has a similar pronunciation to the word beginning, making them a special dish to consume at the start of something special – like Lunar New Year.
6. Spring rolls – a symbol of fresh beginnings and wealth
The name of spring rolls is enough to let you know that they are a popular dish to consume during the Spring Festival (CNY). They are traditionally eaten with fresh vegetables stuffed inside, ushering in a new spring ahead. The golden appearance of spring rolls symbolises wealth and treasures. It is also common these days to find sweet spring rolls consumed as a dessert, as well as the traditional savoury.
7. Glutinous rice cakes – a symbol of career and salary progression
This traditional dish is more than 1,500 years old, originally served to honour and worship gods and ancestors. Glutinous rice cakes are made from rice powder with various ingredients and flavours depending on the region in China. They can be eaten steamed, boiled, or fried, and flavoured with both sweet or savoury ingredients.
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