Chinese New Year is approaching in what feels like the blink of an eye! The upcoming festival is celebrated throughout Asia in remembrance of ancestors and in honour of the Lunar New Year. Typically, it’s associated with fireworks, red envelopes, and, most importantly, feasting.
Despite lasting 16 days, the eve of Chinese New Year is one of the most celebrated rituals. It’s the day of the reunion dinner and personally, it’s a day synonymous with devouring delicious dishes alongside family & friends. Although my mum would make traditional food during Chinese New Year, like longevity noodles & glutinous rice cake (Nian Gao), I would always opt to organise a dinner instead. Yearly, the gist of the menu remained the same (even after going plant-based) due to the fact that certain dishes are served for their auspicious symbolism; either through appearance or pronunciation.
If you’re not planning to dine-in, why not reconnect with your family & friends by cooking traditional recipes together? Here is a list of three symbolic dishes eaten during the eve of Chinese New Year. Considering these recipes are healthy, you can try them at home even if you’re not celebrating!
1. Starter: Dumplings
In ancient China, ingot was used as money. The shape and colour of dumplings are supposed to look like ingots. So, technically, eating dumplings is symbolic of wealth as the auspicious shape makes it look like you’re eating money!
Another fun fact would be how pronouncing dumplings in Chinese sounds similar to the word exchange, ‘jiao’, and the word midnight hour, ‘zi’. Together, ‘jiao zi’ symbolises the exchange from old to new. Besides that, making dumplings is considered a bonding activity too!
Crispy Rice Paper Dumplings Recipe: Watch this video to learn how to make gluten-free dumplings & a dipping sauce to accompany the dish
Pro tip: steam the dumplings, as opposed to pan-frying, to reduce calories
2. Main: Fish
In Chinese, fish is pronounced as ‘yu’ which loosely translates into fortune. As a result, an entire fish is usually served before dessert - symbolising the incoming abundance. To add to that, serving a fish with its head & tail attached represents a good beginning to the New Year and a good ending.
Fun fact: different fishes have different meanings. For example, a Chinese mud carp symbolises good luck as ‘li’ translates into gifts so eating this fish is believed to bring people blessings. Catfish, on the other hand, literally translates into ‘nianyu’ meaning year’s surplus so is indicative of a rich life in the New Year.
Chinese Whole Steamed Fish Recipe: Try out this recipe to learn how to make a flavourful fish and discover some tips on how to pick & prepare a fish as well
Pro tip: plant-based fish is stocked at every major supermarket chain so this recipe can be made vegetarian and/ or vegan
3. Dessert: Tang Yuan
Tang Yuan are chewy dumplings made from glutinous rice flour. Similar to mochi, Tang Yuan can include a traditional filling like red bean or black sesame paste or can be served without any filling. The round & smooth shape of this dessert are symbolic of completeness; of the family reunion and the feeling of togetherness it provides. Indulging in this sweet treat on New Year’s Eve also represents the families hoping to reunite again the following year.
Simple Tang Yuan Recipe: To learn how to make traditional Tang Yuan in just thirty minutes watch this video
Pro tip: reduce the sugar content by opting for unrefined sugar or honey
In Chinese, the words orange & tangerine sounds similar to the word for success and one of the ways of writing tangerine even contains the Chinese character for luck! Thus, oranges & tangerines are frequently passed around during the Chinese New Year. Of course, as you've learned, the shape is symbolic as well as it’s round.
Pro Tip: discover new ways to serve oranges this year by browsing through this link
Gong Xi Fa Cai
However you decide to celebrate, may the feast be sumptuous and the reunion joyful!
For more healthy recipes, browse through these PurelyB recipes