On 16th February, Chinese New Year is widely celebrated across the globe, from fireworks and fancy decorations to red-enveloped gifts and family reunions. Food plays an important part in these festivities, with certain dishes carrying symbolic meanings. Here are our favourite Chinese New Year recipes to help you celebrate the new year at home.

Dumplings (jiao zhi)

Dumplings - a popular dish during Chinese New Year

The preparation of dumplings as a family is almost as important a tradition as eating them during Chinese New Year. This classic Chinese food has a long-standing history and represents longevity and wealth, making them a favourite food during celebrations.

The dish is eaten as the clock strikes midnight, with the saying “gen shui jiao zhi”, meaning ‘ring out the old year and ring in the new’. Make your own at home using a rolling pin to flatten the dough, and fill them with minced pork or diced shrimp before shaping the dumplings into the traditional shape of Chinese silver ingots, an early form of Chinese currency.

Rice balls (tangyuan)

Coloured rice balls - cuisine eaten during Chinese New Year

Sebastian Mary / Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0

The main food of choice for China’s Lantern Festival, tangyuan is a dish of plain or brightly coloured sweet rice balls which are stuffed with traditional fillings such as sesame paste, red beans or peanuts.

The delightful dish is served as a symbol of togetherness and family reunion; perfect for celebrations with loved ones.  But remember, if you are trying to make it at home, ensure the rice balls are served in a sweet, warm broth for the ultimate comfort food.

Spring rolls (chun juan)

Spring rolls laid out on a table - often shared during Chinese New Year

Another symbol of wealth, spring rolls are made to look like bars of gold and are said to bring prosperity to those who eat them. Fillings usually consist of shredded carrots, shiitake mushrooms, cabbage, bean sprouts and pork, all mixed together in a ginger and oyster sauce.

A lucky saying when eating spring rolls is “hwung-jin wan-lyang”, which translates to ‘a ton of gold’ due to the colour of the deep-fried, crunchy shell. When making these at home use filo pastry rather than a thin dough, and prepare them as a family to get into the true spirit of Chinese New Year.

Niangao (glutinous rice cake)

Popular sweet or savoury dish served over Chinese New Year

wEnDy / Flickr.com, CC BY-ND 2.0

Rice cakes date back 3,000 years, comprising simple, staple ingredients such as sticky rice, sugar, chestnuts, Chinese dates and lotus leaves. The rice cake represents progress and growth in the year to come and is said to improve the life of the eater.

The cakes come in both sweet and savoury variations, meaning you can experiment with flavours when you are making the dish at home, turning it into either a dessert or a main dish.

Fish (yu)

Fish served whole - a popular dish eaten on Chinese New Year

This dish is often paired with the saying “nian nian you yu”, which means ‘may the year bring prosperity’. Prosperity, or ‘yu’, is a homophone in Chinese for fish, showing how the symbolism has arisen and why many now consider fish an important part of Chinese New Year meals.

There are many rules regarding how to eat and serve fish. Follow a few for a light-hearted spot of Chinese culture at the table, including:

  • Place the head towards distinguished guests or elders to show respect.
  • Tuck into the fish only after the person sitting in front of the head.
  • The two people facing the head and tail of the fish should take a drink together for good luck.

Each dish enjoyed during Chinese New Year has a history and meaning, making them fun to make in celebration of this cultural highlight. Spend time with family filling spring rolls and sharing a sweet rice cake after dinner, celebrating Chinese New Year surrounded by those you love.

Do you celebrate Chinese New Year? Have you mastered any of these dishes at home, or made another recipe you have discovered on a trip to China? Let us know in the comment box below!

Emma Smith
Emma has more than six years' experience as a writer and has been in the travel industry for over two years. She loves learning of new places and cruise ships coming to market, as well as discovering fun and exciting activities to do while you sail. She has cruised with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises and is looking to get something in diary for 2021! Her favourite things to see on a ship include excellent entertainment, a delicious cocktail menu and extraordinary dining venues.

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