Gather your loved ones and prepare your table for the feasts of Lunar New Year, which begins this year on Sunday, January 22, and ushers in the Year of the Rabbit. Lunar New Year, commonly known as Chinese New Year, is a 15-day holiday that is widely celebrated in China, across many Asian countries and in Asian communities around the world. Like many holidays, this 3,500-year-old celebration is celebrated with an array of food that accompanies the many unique Lunar New Year traditions, such as giving Lunar New Year gifts.
The traditional Asian food associated with the holiday is diverse in form and flavor, and many dishes are associated with symbols, myths and superstitions that give them special significance. There’s something for everyone in a Lunar New Year spread: sweet and savory, crunchy and soft, meat and vegetarian. If you’re joining a Lunar New Year celebration this year, impress your host by bringing some of these dishes as it’s customary to bring food to the host at gatherings. One major theme for every Lunar New Year is attracting good luck and avoiding bad luck for the year ahead, so make sure to include some of these lucky new year foods as well as some staples in your celebrations this year.
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Known as mandoo in Korean, gyoza in Japanese, or jiǎozi in Mandarin Chinese, dumplings are versatile savory morsels served at many Lunar New Year celebrations. They can be filled with an infinite combination of fillings, including pork and chive, spinach and egg, and chicken and cabbage. Associated with currency, dumplings are said to bring prosperity and luck, so eat up!
Known as “long-life noodles” or “longevity noodles,” and called chángshòu miàn in some parts of China, these noodles eaten on Lunar New Year can be as long as two feet and are served uncut, either fried or submerged in a broth. According to myth, the longer the noodle you eat, the longer you’ll live.
A popular Chinese treat for the holiday is glutinous rice balls, also called yuánxiāo or tāngyuán, that can be prepared sweet or savory. These round and chewy rice balls can be prepared with sweet fillings — like black sesame, peanuts, red bean, rose petals, and rock sugar — or savory ones like minced meat, crushed peanuts, and mushrooms. The round shape is said to symbolize family unity.
Similar to fried spring rolls found in Chinese cuisine, lumpia are a common Lunar New Year food served in the Philippines and Indonesia. Said to resemble gold bars, these fried rolls are often filled with one or more of chicken, garlic, pork, shrimp, carrots or bean sprouts, and considered lucky to eat during the holiday.
For Seollal, Korea’s Lunar New Year, people eat tteokguk, which is a rice cake soup made with water, beef, green onion, and egg. Centering thin white disk-shaped rice cakes that resemble coins, this soup symbolizes new beginnings and a clean slate that invites good luck. In Korea, when you eat a bowl of this comforting soup, they say you get one year older, wiser and richer.
Refreshing, satisfying and symbolic, tangerines are a common gift and snack during Lunar New Year. Tangerines are considered lucky fruit because the Cantonese word for tangerine is similar to the word for wealth. In addition to tangerines, oranges, pomelos and kumquats are also common fruits considered to be lucky for the holiday because of their gold color.
A common feature on many Lunar New Year menus, fish, especially when served whole, is said to represent wholeness, abundance, and prosperity for the coming year. Common whole fish dishes are black bass steamed with ginger and scallions, and sea bass, trout or carp braised in a spicy chile sauce.
While sesame balls are found in Chinese bakeries and restaurants throughout the year, they take on a special meaning during Lunar New Year: that of expanding luck. Since the glutinous rice flour balls grow outwards while they are being fried, they symbolize your expanding fortune. Make sure to order a couple extra for yourself this year.
Chinese New Year sticky rice cake
Sweet, supple and soft in texture, this cake, also known as nian gao, is a popular Chinese sweet dessert eaten during Lunar New Year. The cake is made of rice flour and brown sugar and can be eaten plain, dipped in condensed milk for an extra sweet kick or pan-fried for some crisp. These can be purchased in Asian grocery stores and make a great gift.
Round and golden when baked, almond cookies are said to resemble coins and symbolize good fortune and prosperity for the eater. Topped with a single almond that can be blanched or toasted, these cookies are a simple dessert to make and simply irresistible. Feel free to tuck in a few extra to boost your luck (and taste buds)!
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