9 Chinese New Years Dishes and What They Represent

The Chinese New Year will begin on Monday, February 8th , and will be celebrated by millions of people across the globe. Each Chinese New Year is represented by one of 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. This lunar year, it will be the year of the Monkey which is the ninth cycle of the zodiac, indicating 9 as a lucky number for this year. One of the five elements is also applied to the Chinese calendar, making 2016 the year of the Fire Monkey. According to Chinese tradition, the Fire Monkey is adventurous and ambitious, so here’s to new and exciting experiences for the New Year.

Every year, people who choose to celebrate gather around the table with family and friends to eat “lucky” food for the New Year. Some interesting dishes include glass noodles, the tray of togetherness, pomelo, black moss, and more.

Each dish is symbolic in meaning, and the names of the dish or ingredients are often homonyms to words that refer to wishes expressed during the Chinese New Year. Whether you’re looking to just try some of the delicious menu items, or you are searching for a little good fortune in your life, I’m going to break down 9 Chinese New Year dishes and what they each represent.

1. Fish

Photo by Jessica Liu

Chinese people tend to cook fish to bring in the New Year, because it represents a surplus. They believe that if they have managed to save something at the end of the year, then they can have more of it in the upcoming year. The fish can either be boiled or steamed, and the head should be placed towards elders, representing respect.

Meanings of different types of fish

Catfish : means “year of surplus”

Crucian Carp : means good luck

Chinese mud carp : symbolizes the wish for good fortune


2. Dumplings

Photo by Jessica Liu

The Chinese dumplings are a popular dish eaten by people across the world, and especially in North China. According to an old legend, Chinese dumplings represent wealth, meaning that the more dumplings you eat during the celebration, the more money you’ll be able to make in the New Year.

Some popular fillings include diced shrimp, fish, ground chicken, and vegetables. The dumplings should be arranged in lines instead of circles, because if it’s arranged in a circle that means your life will never go anywhere. May your new year bring you wealth and treasures!

3. Noodles

Photo by Jessica Liu

The noodles represent a wish for “longevity” in one’s life. The length of the noodles are symbolic for the eater’s life, and are either fried or boiled, served in a bowl with their broth.

4. “Lucky Fruit”

Certain fruits eaten during Chinese New year symbolize fullness and wealth. Tangerines, oranges, and pomelos specifically are believed to bring good luck due to their pronunciation and their writing.

5. Spring Rolls

Photo by Jessica Liu

Spring rolls are a dish especially popular in East China and they represent a wish for prosperity. This is a cylindrical-shaped roll filled with vegetables, meat, or something sweet. The fillings are wrapped in dough, and then fried to crispy golden perfection.

6. Whole Chicken

Photo by Jessica Liu

Eating a whole chicken ensures that one’s wishes will come true and that they will have good health.  You must remember that the chicken is whole—not just breasts or wings. The wholeness of the chicken is served to represent abundance.

7. Abalone

Photo by Jessica Liu

This dish is a traditional Hakka Chinese meal which represents good fortune. Traditionally, it is served among the Hakka families on the fifteenth day of the Chinese New year to mark the end of the holiday, but now it is served on anytime of the fifteen day period.

8. Sea Cucumber

Photo by Jessica Liu

Eating a dish with sea cucumbers is extremely lucky for a new family, and it also has many health benefits. Sea cucumber is pronounced “haishen” in Chinese which sounds like “sheng,” the Chinese word for “give birth”. This symbolizes that a family may be blessed with a new-born during the year.

9. Seafood with Nuts

Photo by Jessica Liu

This dish is loaded with several symbolic ingredients including shrimp, scallops, and cashews. Shrimp is said to bring happiness and good fortune while scallops symbolize new opportunities or the opening of new horizons. The cashew nuts which are shaped like the ancient Chinese gold bar symbolize gold or money, bringing prosperity and good fortune for the New Year.

Interested in reading more? Here ya go.


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