The Lunar New Year is upon us! Though back in the U.S. we don’t get so much as a sick day off for this holiday, here in China, we get a week off work. Beijing has emptied, as most of the city’s residents headed back to their home villages to see family. This means that we have quite a bit of free time on our hands, and we’ll be cooking quite a bit. Here are some of our favorites for the New Year:
Food during Chinese New Year is all about what will bring luck, prosperity, and harmony to you in the New Year. Peanuts’ll do that for you. Go grab a bag of raw peanuts and roast them in a wok with salt and a bit of oil. They’re the most amazing thing ever.
Among many Cantonese families, pan-fried Chinese turnip cakes, or “lo bo gao,” “lo bok goh,” or however you want to spell it, are a must for the New Year meal. They’re associated with a phrase meaning “good luck.” These Chinese Turnip Pancakes are a lighter, crispier, and easier recipe with all the flavor of a turnip cake.
Nian Gao, or rice cakes, are popular around Chinese New Year because of their name. “Nian” means “year,” and “gao,” sounds like the word for “tall,” or “high.” Thus, it’s a dish that’s supposed to represent moving up in the world in the coming year.
So usually, the nian gao served during Chinese New Year is a sweet version, usually made with glutinous rice flour, brown sugar, and dates. The batter is formed into a cake, sliced, and then pan-fried. But we consider the savory “nian gao” just as lucky. This nian gao stir-fry is super easy, awesomely delicious, and WILL help you get a promotion and/or salary increase. It’s magic.
It’s not a secret that noodles represent longevity. We have many noodle recipes here on the website. You can check out our “Rice & Noodles” category in the Recipe Index for more ideas, but I had to choose one, and this dish is my absolute favorite. Crispy, crunchy, deliciousness.
This is the big one. It’s probably the most common New Year food, I think because they’re sort of shaped like gold bars, which represent prosperity. Supposedly, the more dumplings you eat during the Spring Festival (aka Chinese New Year), the richer you’ll be throughout the next year.
Better start eating.
Fish is supposed to be on the table at Chinese New Year, no exceptions. There’s a phrase, “Nian nian you yu,” which means “abundance through the year,” and the word “yu” (abundance) sounds the same as the word for fish. So if you want that abundance, you better be getting those Omega-3’s. Try this recipe for our Cantonese Steamed Fish, which is probably the easiest fish recipe there is. During the new year, it’s preferable to cook a whole fish (you don’t want to skimp on that abundance, do you?), but you can go with a fillet too if that’s not your thing. One more important point: when eating fish on Chinese New Year, always leave some left over. This ensures a “surplus” for the coming year.
Remember the whole “gold bars” thing with the dumplings? It’s a similar concept with spring rolls, which are supposed to bring you wealth. This is my mom’s recipe, and having eaten many a spring roll in my day, I can confidently say that hers are the best. Ever. No exceptions. In this post, she also reminisces about her experience growing up eating these in Shanghai this time of year.
Is this on the table at every single special occasion at my Grandma’s house? You better believe it is, and we’re not complaining. Take your pick. Grandma’s version…
Or my mom’s:
And finally, the last item on our list:
One of my absolute, all-time favorites. One of the great food loves of my life. I request it every year.