Chinese New Year is Coming – and It’s a Feast!

Chinese New Year a.k.a. Spring Festival – is definitely the biggest holiday in China. It’s a feast of delicious food as well. What are the most common foods to eat then? 

This year is going to be the year of the Ox. I wrote about Chinese zodiac signs and zodiac animals, as well as how the Chinese calendar works in this post – check it out! 

The biggest celebration of the Spring Festival takes place on the 30th day of the 12th lunar month. That day is called 除夕 chuxī – New Year’s Eve – and this year, it’s on February, 11th! 

As with every big holiday, Chinese New Year can’t miss the festive food – eating tasty lavish foods is one of the ways to celebrate. And there a few dishes in particular associated with the celebration of the Chinese New Year in particular, very much like eating special food during Christmas dinner. 

One thing is that it’s common to consume lots and lots of meat rather than vegetables – New Year’s Eve dinner is all about choosing expensive foods to show prosperity and abundance. Sometimes, you eat so much you start missing vegetables!

It happened to me – a few years back, I was staying at my classmate’s house for the New Year. Rather than eating a New Year’s Eve dinner, they ate lunch – obviously, customs and habits vary between different regions of China. After eating lunch at her house (and drinking some sort of sweet alcohol), her relatives, who were living close to her, wanted me to come over and eat there as well. After that, it happened again – I was asked to go to another house to eat! That day, I ate 4 meals, I think. I ended up lying down for quite a while – like a snake that swallowed something huge and is unable to move until the food is digested.

African egg-eating snake eating an egg
That’s exactly how I felt – like this African egg-eating snake. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Anyway, back to our topic – Chinese food eaten during the New Year! Apart from the fact that it’s common to prepare more expensive, festive foods, many dishes are eaten because their name means something lucky, auspicious, or they resemble something auspicious and related to the wish of prosperity and abundance. I wanted to tell you about a few of them – let’s take a look.

Dumplings

An absolute must-eat for many during the Chinese New Year. Some people swear by eating fresh, hand-made dumplings, some buy them frozen. Some need to drink soup with them, some don’t. Also, in some places, it’s a custom to eat dumplings after midnight rather than during dinner. However you eat them, dumplings are an important part of celebrating the Spring Festival! 

The first reason because they are a festive dish is their name in Chinese – 饺子 jiăozi. Jiăo sounds similar to this word – 交 jiāo, which means “replace, take the place of something, or hand something over”, as in the saying “xīn jiù jiaāotì – meaning “to replace the old with the new”. As it’s very important to bring the new and discard the old during the Chinese New Year – for example, by buying new clothes or other items – dumplings signify that change. 

The other reason is that dumplings look a little bit like gold ingots – the currency China used to have.

Fish

Fish is another dish (look at me rhyming) that is eaten because of how it sounds. “Fish” in Chinese is 鱼, the same pronunciation as 余 meaning surplus. There is a proverb related to it: 年年有余 niánniányǒuyú, meaning “every year, there’s surplus” – and it expresses the wish that year after year, there is an abundance of everything that one needs.

Chinese grilled fish

年糕 Niángāo dumplings

It’s a type of savory dumplings without filling, made from sticky rice. They are eaten as part of other dishes – for example, a soup or stir-fried dish. As with other examples, this one is also auspicious because of its pronunciation. It sounds the same as 年高 – which could be translated as “growth every year”, expressing the wish for growth and improvement. 

Niangao is often ordered as part of hot pot.

Shrimp

“Shrimp” in Chinese is 虾 xiā. As it sounds similar to 笑 xiào, which means “laugh”, it’s also considered to be a lucky food. After all, who wouldn’t want to have a year filled with laughter and happiness? 

Shrimp, steamed fish, bok choi and cold rice noodles with cucumber.

Anything signifying growth and development 

Foods like bean sprouts or fried young vegetables are meant to symbolize the growth and moving forward. Which is something that we usually hope for during the new year!

Mung bean sprouts – on the right – are one of auspicious foods eaten during the New Year’s celebration. Photo by mingche lee on Pexels.com

Well, that’s it for today’s list! As you can see, all the dishes have the common theme of growth, improving, every year being better than the last one, etc. I hope you weren’t reading it with an empty stomach; if so, please find something tasty to eat!

Happy New Ox Year! 

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One thought on “Chinese New Year is Coming – and It’s a Feast!

  1. For me it was very revealing article, the idea of eating particular food because it’s name sounds like something else is so interesting! And I ate baguette with ham and cheese during reading 😀

    Like

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