Chinese New Year Food

Mention Chinese New Year Food, dumplings, fish and a reunion dinner may come into mind; however, these are not the only foods associated with the abundant New Year Food– a symbol of Chinese food culture. Every dish has its symbolism deeply rooted in Chinese culture. Different kinds of food have different meanings, which express people’s good wishes for a new year.

 Dumpling

Dumplings
Chinese Dumplings

The Chinese dumpling now enjoys worldwide popularity. Its history can be traced back to South and North Dynasty (420 –589). It was very popular to eat dumplings during the Chinese New Year during the Ming (1368 – 1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) in North China. Dumplings are often eaten at the midnight. This kind of tradition has a meaning of changing of years, because “jiao” has the meaning of changing. There are two other reasons to eat dumplings: the dumpling’s shape resembles the Chinese tael, which hopes to bring in wealth and treasures in next year. The second reason is that the dumplings have stuffing, in which people often put auspicious materials inside. In some places, people even put a clean coin into the dumplings, because they think the one who eats the coin will become wealthier.

Nowadays, dumplings are the major food on the New Year's Eve and the first meal on the first and the fifth day of New Year. 

 Fish

Fish on Reunion Dinner
Fish on Reunion Dinner
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Fish is an indispensable dish on the reunion dinner, because Chinese people give it many kinds of meanings. Fish has its Chinese pronunciation as ‘Yu’, which means having more than just a basic need each year. In southern China, some people just eat the middle part of the fish on the New Year Eve, leaving the head and tail to the next day to symbolize completeness. In China, there is a blessing speech as ‘Nian Nian You Yu’, which means ‘May you have surpluses and bountiful harvests every year.’

 New Year's Dinner

Also being called Reunion Dinner, it is very large and sumptuous and includes meat and fish as well as all kinds of vegetables. The pronunciation of fish makes it a homophone for ‘surpluses’ and the fish is not eaten completely, as the Chinese phrase “may there be surpluses every year” sounds the same as “let there be fish every year” in Chinese pronunciation. Sweet food is also necessary in the wishing of a luscious life in next year. The number of dishes also important, the number is always six, eight or ten, which means smooth, getting prosperous and perfect respectively. Now more and more people choose to have the reunion dinner in restaurants instead of cooking on themselves.

 Rice Dumpling (Yuanxiao)

Rice Dumlpings
Rice Dumplings

Since the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279), people have had the custom of eating Yuanxiao during the Lantern Festival (Yuanxiao Festival). Now Yuanxiao are eaten on the morning of the first day of New Year (Jan. 1st of first lunar month) in southern part of the country. But for most places, it is eaten during the Lantern Festival (Jan. 15thof first lunar month), because the round shape is the symbol of family reunion.

People in north and south of China have different eating habits and making processes of rice dumplings. In south part of the country, the rice dumplings are called Tangyuan in Chinese. The making process is similar with that of the traditional dumplings. Dough made by glutinous rice powder is made first and then use the dough to wrap the stuffing such as bean paste, brown sugar and all kinds of fruits and nuts. But in north part of the country, the rice dumplings are called Yuanxiao, and are made by wrapping glutinous rice flour onto stuffing. Fillings are madefirst; then flour is put into a bamboo basket and then fillings into the basket. Shaking the basket, the flour can stick to the fillings, so that the rice dumplings can be finished.

 Spring Rolls

Spring Rolls
Spring Rolls

It was first eaten on fourth day of February in Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 – 420). Fresh vegetables or ingredients in spring time are wrapped inside and people eat it to welcome a new spring. Now it has also become a dessert in some places in the reunion dinner, which contain people’s wish to welcome a new start.

 New Year Cake

Glutinous New Year Cake was originally used to worship the gods and ancestors during this festival. In the south of China, it is customary to make and eat it during the happy event. The Chinese pronunciation of the Cake (Niangao) has a homophonous meaning of ‘increasingly prosperous year after year’, which gives people new hope.The cake is made of glutinous rice powder and can be cooked by frying, steaming, stir-frying or boiling.

 Laba Congee

Laba Congee
Laba Congee

The preparation of the Chinese New Year began from the Laba Festival (the Dec.8thof lunar calendar), so Laba Congee is also regarded as a kind of festival food.Laba congee is a ceremonial congee dish eaten during the Laba Festival. It includes different kinds of rice, ormosia, dates, peanuts and melon seeds. It originated in Buddhism, in which the congee was only served for the Buddha. In Ming and Qing dynasties, people sacrificed Laba congee to their ancestors or sent it to relatives, as a blessing. The emperors would bestow the congee to their ministers as well as temples. Chinese people also sacrifice the Laba congee to the Five Cereals Gods. These kinds of ceremonies disappeared, but the custom of having Laba congee remains.

 Hot Pot

Hot pot is a necessary dish in some places in the country. Eating hot pot makes people feel warm and the atmosphere is very kind. The red color indicates that the following year is booming.

 Further Reading:
Chinese Festival Food
Chinese New Year Dates
New Year Customs and Activities
Differences on Celebrations between North and South China