Celebratory Lunar New Year dishes from Chinatown London
With the most important date on the Chinese calendar just around the corner; welcome good fortune, good health and a long life into the new year through these symbolic and cultural dishes.
A pathway to prosperity
No self-respecting household at Lunar New Year is without most or all of these celebratory foods. While tasty of course, each one comes with its own ritualistic meanings and traditional symbolism. Let’s take a look at eight of the most traditional foods to celebrate Lunar New Year.
New Year Rice Cake (Nian Gao)
As with most Chinese dishes, the north and south have different variations of the iconic nian gao, though it’s always a sticky-sweet cake prepared from glutinous rice. Nian gao were used in ancient times as offerings to the Gods and whilst it can be eaten all year round, here’s what makes the cake so special at this time of the year: ‘nian’ translates to ‘sticky’ but sounds just like ‘year’ when spoken and ‘gao’ means cake but sounds identical to ‘high’. Thus, the cake signifies a ‘higher year’ than the one previous. Genius!
Deep fried, steamed or baked and variant in shape and size, these little golden parcels are eaten during the Spring Festival to celebrate the coming of Spring. Spring rolls symbolise wealth and good fortune due to the golden colour and shape of each parcel which is said to represent a gold bar. Warm, crispy and full of flavour, these are popular all around the world at any time of the year.
Spending time with family and loved ones is what underpins Lunar New Year, so communal dining where everyone gets stuck in is the order of the day. There’s no such dish which does this better than a great cauldron of steaming hot pot, around which families can jostle for prime dipping position. A large simmering pot of tasty stew which can be customised and tailored using your favourite ingredients like seafood, pork or chicken which can be added raw and cooked round the table.
Hot Pots can incorporate many different foods which each have their own significant meanings. For example: Roasted pig symbolises peace, Duck represents loyalty and Tofu symbolises happiness and fortune for the whole family. Vegetables such as Seaweed foreshadow wealth and good fortune, Bamboo shoots represent longevity and Muskmelon and grapefruit symbolise family and hope, wealth and prosperity.
Much like nian gao, chicken is a homonym – in Chinese, ‘chicken’s’ pronunciation is the same as ‘prosperity’. As such chicken dishes are very popular, it’s served on New Year’s Eve dinner, one of the most important meals over the fortnight’s NY celebrations. The chicken feet are said to help you grasp onto wealth, whilst the wings help you to fly higher and the bones represent achievement, so tuck in…
Part of the citrus family, the kumquat is a tiny, olive-shaped fruit resembling something like a micro-orange. Being smaller, the flavour is super concentrated with a zingy sweet-yet-tart tang. Though not as much eaten at Lunar New Year as displayed in the home, families in China will always place a kumquat plant indoors. The fruit’s golden hue signifies the sun and harvest while its round shape represents success.
Fried dumplings, steamed dumplings, boiled dumplings in soup: the dumpling opportunities are endless. Regardless of regions, all Chinese will eat dumplings at New Year. Their shape resembles ancient golden ingots, which signify wealth. Occasionally a family member may hide a coin inside to bless the lucky person who receives it with good luck that year. Every family member helps out with the preparation and wrapping of dumplings as a family bonding activity.
What better food to symbolise a long and healthy life than, well, long and healthy noodles? Served much longer than usual and usually uncut, longevity noodles are typically made from wheat as they’re less breakage-prone, Served up in a soup or stir-fried with meat or vegetables and flavoured with sesame and ginger, they’re a delicious celebratory dish.
An indispensable guest at the Lunar New Year dinner table, the fish, represents a whole and healthy family and is popular – like other dishes – because of its lucky homophonics. Fish’s homophonic ‘yu’ sounds like ‘surplus/abundance’ so it suggests that if there’s surplus food at the end of the year it can only be a good thing. Furthermore, the first character of ‘crucian carp’ sounds like ‘gift’ so it’s considered good luck to eat. Fish motifs and decoration will be everywhere to reign in prosperity for the New Year.
Share your photos from your Lunar New Year feast by tagging @chinatownlondon on instagram and using the hashtag #ChinatownConnections< Go Back To Discover