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9 Traditional Foods for Chinese New Year

It’s almost time for the Chinese New Year and to make sure we’re all ready for the celebrations, we’ve put together a guide on what to eat during Chinese New Year and what are the top lucky foods in China.

The guide is also packed with useful information on the festival, customs and things the what do Chinese people do to say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new year. We know it can be hard to find simple information on this event, and that’s why we’ve written this Chinese New Year Food Guide: we spent hours checking on Chinese websites, talking with people and trying to get as many details we could so to give you a complete guide to this event.

If you only know the Chinese New Year by name, this article will give you a few insights; if you already know this event, we are sure you’ll find useful information.

Check this table of content for a brief overview of the article:

What is the Chinese New Year?

The Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, is the most important festival in China: it lasts up to two weeks and it’s the only time of the year when China literally shuts down. Differently from Western countries, the Chinese New Year generally falls on a day between January 21st and February 20th in the Gregorian calendar, according to the Chinese lunar calendar.

In 2020 the Chinese New Year festival falls on Jan. 25 and, according to the Chinese zodiac, it is the year of the Rat. It’s a time to be spent with family and that’s why food is heavily involved in the celebrations.

Rituals and Customs To Celebrate Chinese New Year

If vibrant red lanterns and colorful lights are the major symbols of the Chinese New Year for Western people, for Chinese people, there are a few rituals and customs to celebrate the arrival of the Lunar New Year.

House Cleaning and Decorating

About half month before the designated time of the year, a thorough clean of the house is carried on in order to welcome the New Year at its best. After the in-depth cleaning, every house is decorated with red lanterns and traditional red decorations.

Family dinner on New Year’s Eve

On New Year’s Eve, the whole family reunites to have dinner with the whole family. The feast includes meat, fish, vegetables. Read more about Chinese New Year Foods.

Red Envelopes

Red Envelopes with money will be handled to the younger members of the family by the seniors. The money is wrapped in red packets in the hope of dispelling evil spirits from the kids.

Firecrackers

On New Year’s Eve, it is a common tradition to watch the fireworks from 0:00 to 0:30 and even later. The fireworks were used to scare away the monster Nian which, according to legend, emerges at midnight.

Visiting Relatives

The 1st day of the New Year is spent at home, and it’s then followed by a half-month spent visiting relatives. People bring gifts to one another’s homes and give red envelopes to the kids.

Folk Shows and Temple Fairs

Folk shows, fairs, and events are carried around till the 15th day of 1st lunar month. This is also the time when people go pray at the temple.

As with any traditional holiday, observance varies depending on the individual but in every case, food is heavily present during the celebration of the Chinese New Year.

That’s why we want to show you what are the most important and lucky Chinese New Year foods to eat.

The Top Lucky Foods to Eat during the Chinese New Year

Every food in China represents something and symbolism is associated with every traditional dish eaten for the Lunar Year. These are the most important Chinese New Year Foods and their meanings:

Dumplings

Dumplings, a staple of the Chinese cuisine, are associated with the wealthiness: according to tradition, the more dumplings you eat during the New Year celebrations, the more money you can make in the New Year. It’s all more complex than this: in fact, different dumplings have different meanings.

Dumplings with sauerkraut are forbidden because they mean a poor and difficult future; it’s common to eat dumplings with cabbage and radish, as a symbol of prosperity both for the body and the mind.

In some areas of China, people put a white thread inside a dumpling: the person who eats that dumpling is supposed to possess longevity.

It’s completely forbidden to arrange dumplings in circles: dumplings have to be arranged in lines as a symbol of life actually going somewhere.

Before eating a dumpling, all the people at the dinner table have to say the following phrase: “Zhāo cái jìn bǎo” that means “Bringing in wealth and treasure”.

Spring Rolls

The name Spring Rolls refers specifically to the tradition of eating this dish during the Lunar Year (also called the Spring Festival). There are no specific rules to follow when it comes to spring rolls, but it’s common to say the phrase “A ton of gold” referring to this dish as a carrier of prosperity.

Niangao

Niangao is a traditional glutinous rice cake made of sticky rice, sugar, chestnuts, dates, and lotus leaves. eating Niangao is accompanied by the phrase “Getting higher year-after-year by year” meaning a general improvement in life.

Sweet Rice Balls

The rice balls are a staple of the Chinese celebrations: their rounded shape is associated with reunion and being together.

Noodles

The so-called Longevity Noodles symbolizes longevity: in fact, they are longer than normal noodles and uncut. The longer the better.

Fish

Fish is a traditional Chinese New Year dish and it’s usually steamed. Different types of fishes can be served, based on the family’s wishes:

  • Crucian carp: eating crucian carp brings good luck for the next year;
  • Chinese mud carp: eating Chinese mud carp brings good fortune;
  • Catfish: eating catfish is a wish for a surplus in the year.

The fish should be the last dish left on the dinner table with some leftovers: the fish is considered a good omen to having more money in the upcoming year. For this reason, the fish has to be carefully positioned on the dinner table:

  • The head should be placed toward distinguished guests or elders;
  • Diners can enjoy the fish only after the one who faces the fish head eats first;
  • The fish shouldn’t be moved.

Eating the fish is accompanied by the popular saying “May you always have more than you need!”.

Steamed Chicken

A whole chicken is another symbol of the family; that’s why, once cooked, Chinese people first offer the chicken to the ancestors asking for blessings and protection.

Fruit and Vegetables

Vegetables play an important role in a Chinese dinner table and each of them symbolizes something specific.

Bamboo shoots: represent longevity;
Poria mushrooms: represent blessings and fortune;
Muskmelon and grapefruit: represent family;
Seaweed: represents wealth and fortune.

Fa Gao

Fa Gao is a typical Chinese dessert made with soaked rice that is then ground into a paste and steamed. Exactly like the Ningao, it is a wish for success.

Chinese New Year’s Dining Etiquette Guide

Eating in a traditionally Chinese environment during the New Year Celebrations can be hard because there are a lot of things to remember when it comes to dinner manners. We have listed some of them below:

  1. Never stick your chopstick into a bowl of rice: it’s very disrespectful because it is considered bad luck;
  2. Never tap your bowl with chopsticks: it’s rude to the hosts;
  3. Always eat with your mouth closed and never ever slurp: unlike Japan, in China slurping is considered extremely rude;
  4. Never start eating before your host and always serve someone else first before you serve yourself;
  5. Never pass a piece of food to someone with your chopsticks.

What is taboo during Chinese New Year?

Celebrations mean there are some taboos that are part of the Chinese culture. Among them:

  • Showering isn’t allowed New Year’s Day;
  • Sweeping and throwing out the garbage isn’t allowed before the 5th day of the New Year;
  • Haircutting is forbidden before the first 7 days;
  • Arguing and swearing is forbidden;
  • Breaking things brings bad luck;
  • All words with negative connotations are forbidden;
  • Using scissors, knives or other sharp objects are forbidden because they will cut your stream of wealth and success;
  • Taking medicines should be avoided so to avoid being sick the entire year.

How to say Happy New Year in Chinese

If you want to impress your Chinese friends, you need to know how to say Happy New Year in Chinese! We don’t know a word in Chinese but we’ve learned the simplest way of saying it:

xīn nián kuài lè

which means exactly Happy New Year. This is the Chinese written form: 新年快乐.

Are you ready to celebrate the Chinese New Year and eat these good luck foods? We are, and we cannot wait!

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About the author
Veruska Anconitano
Veruska is a freelance content marketer and digital strategist. She's an accredited journalist, a member of the British Guild of Travel Writer, and a certified sommelier. She's the co-owner of TheFoodellers and a bunch of other websites.
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