7 dishes eaten at Chinese New Year to bring good luck
2020 is the Year of the Rat, an animal that symbolises wealth and the beginning of a new day.
Washing clothes, using scissors, sweeping floors and crying children. According to Chinese superstition (and there are a few), doing any of these on 25 January — the day Chinese New Year falls in 2020 — will lead to bad luck for the entire coming year.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom: 2020 is the Year of the Rat, an animal that symbolises wealth and the beginning of a new day.
Plus for every child that cries on the day, there is a dish you can eat that will bring you good luck, and a major part of the celebrations revolve around specially curated family feasts.
Here are a selection of dishes to order (or make) over this Chinese New Year weekend to boost your chances of a happy, healthy and prosperous year ahead.
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The dumpling is traditionally a very lucky food in China. It's now a popular dish eaten worldwide and has a history of 1,800 years attached to it.
Not only are dumplings a staple food for people in China, often made at home as a family activity, they are an essential dish on every Chinese New Year dinner table. These salty bites are eaten on New Year's Eve because the Chinese name is ‘jiaozi’, meaning the changing of years.
Dumplings are a symbol of wealth and shaped like an ancient Chinese gold ingot. Lucky coins are often randomly hidden inside dumplings around new year and whoever finds a coin will be granted the best of luck and great wealth in the coming year.
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The round shape of traditional Chinese rice balls symbolises the completeness of family reunions in China. For that reason they're eaten at Chinese festivals including the Lantern Festival (Yuanxiao Festival), and in Southern China they're served up for Chinese New Year.
The dough of Tangyuan is made up of glutinous rice powder and stuffed with fillings such as bean paste, brown sugar and all kinds of fruits and nuts.
The luck comes from the family togetherness and bonds these simple rice balls represent.
During Chinese New Year, long noodles are eaten in all corners of China. Known as “Longevity noodles,” each person is served one long single and continuous noodle.
The noodles must not be cut or broken by the cook, and if they can be eaten in one slurp without biting through the strands, they are considered even more auspicious. If you bite the noodle into bits, the good luck wish is broken.
Longevity noodles are usually stir fried with vegetables – presenting challenges to the home cook – or boiled. The noodles are eaten as a sign of a smooth year ahead.
Spring rolls, also named "spring pancakes" in China, are a traditional Chinese New Year bite and loved all over the world, but especially in regions south of the Yangtze River.
The rolls got their name because traditionally they're eaten during China's Spring Festival as a way to welcome the arrival of spring. The golden cylindrical-shaped rolls represent gold bars — which symbolise wealth and new blessings.
They once took the form of pancakes folded around fillings such as baked and salted meats, spinach, chives, beansprouts, bean vermicelli, and eggs. In the Ming and Qing dynasties (1367 – 1911), cookery skills developed and cooks rolled the pancakes into mignon rolls.
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Like dumplings, Wontons are popular during the Chinese New Year because of the shape, which is like a Chinese silver ingot.
People believe that eating wontons can bring wealth and an abundance of treasure. On the other hand, Wonton in Chinese has similar pronunciation with “Hundun”, which means the beginning. Eating Wontons during the New Year celebrations symbolise a wish for a good start.
As one of the most traditional Chinese New Year foods, Rice Cakes have a history going back over 1,500 years, and were originally used to worship the gods and deceased ancestors.
Widely eaten across China, the cakes are made of glutenous rice powder, but the flavours differ between regions. The rice cakes are made with brown sugar in Guangdong Niangao, for example, and fried with ribs in Shanghai.
The Chinese name for the cake is "Niangao" and means, "increasing prosperity year after year," which gives people new hope of an elevated career and luck when it comes to studies.
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Fish is a very significant dish on any Chinese New Year table and is usually steamed or braised.
In Chinese, the word for fish is pronunced "Yu", which means surplus and fortune. There is a blessing speech called "Nian Nian You Yu" in Chinese which means: "may you have surpluses and bountiful harvests every year".
Different fish have different meanings too. For example, a Chinese mud carp will bring good luck and blessings for the year ahead, while crucian carp brings good fortune.
Note there are some rules. Don’t turn over a fish once you have finished eating one side, in Chinese culture, that is considered very unlucky. To show respect, the head of fish needs to be pointing towards elders or distinguished guests sitting at the table.
In southern China, some people eat the middle of the fish on the New Year's Eve, leaving the head and tail until the next day to symbolise completeness.