Food is an essential element of Chinese New Year, perhaps the most important of all the Chinese holidays. The highlight of this 15-day celebration is an elaborate dinner on the Eve of the New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year. Whole families gather around tables piled high with foods that are symbolic and represent wishes for the coming year.
Here are some of the most meaningful — and luckiest! — foods of the Chinese New Year table:
- Dumplings. Filled with pork or vegetables — dumplings are classic Chinese New Year treats, symbolizing prosperity in the new year. They are often shaped as ancient Chinese money, called ingots, to symbolize wealth. Making dumplings is frequently a family affair, with everyone involved in the process, so dumplings come to also symbolize family unity. Sometimes, a golden coin or another small treat will be hidden inside one of the dumplings, bringing extra luck to the diner who finds it. Round sweet dumplings made of glutinous rice are also a traditional food, their sweetness symbolizing a sweet year and the round shape standing for family reunion.
- Fish. The pronunciation of fish in Chinese —yú— sounds just like the word for "surpluses," and fish is traditionally eaten on Chinese New Year to symbolize abundance. The fish can be steamed or fried, but it must be whole to fully symbolize completeness and good fortune in the coming year — the tail and the head represent "happy endings and beginnings." In many families, a part of the fish is not eaten and is left on the plate to signify the "surpluses" the family hopes to receive.
- Noodles. Long noodles are eaten at Chinese New Year to symbolize long life, and can be prepared in many ways. For a double dose of longevity, noodles are prepared with mustard greens, which are a symbol of long life for parents. Added mixed vegetables symbolize family unity, as in this dish. Or the noodles themselves can be significant, as with egg noodles, which combine longevity with the egg's symbol of fertility.
- Whole Chicken. A whole chicken is often served on Chinese New Year to symbolize family unity. But, like the fish, the chicken must be whole, rather than in pieces, to preserve the symbolism.
- Oranges. In Chinese the word for "orange" sounds nearly identical to the word for "gold," so oranges are eaten to promote wealth in the New Year. Celebrate Chinese New Year with an orange sabayon dessert that offers a double serving of oranges — and, therefore, double the prosperity!