Food and the Chinese New Year

By Jason Bell

The Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year is a chance to sample particularly festive and unusual Chinese food. Many of the dishes prepared for New Year's celebrations have a symbolic meaning, from mandarin oranges (wealth) to red candy (a protection against evil).

On New Year's Eve, Chinese families celebrate with a lavish feast full of seafood and dumplings. Dumplings are one of the most important New Year's dishes. Usually stuffed with shrimp, beef, or pork, "jaotze" are made to look like ingots, representing prosperity. Fish is another important New Year's food, because the word for fish is pronounced the same as the word for "excess" or "surplus."

With so many delicious options to choose from, a Chinese New Year spread brings good luck and prosperity. When New Year's Day arrives, families eat a vegetable dish called "jai" that's made with ingredients like lotus seed, ginkgo nuts, and bamboo shoots. Other traditional dishes include taro and turnip cakes. Special pastries known as "nian gao," or "New Year cakes" are made of sweet rice and served for dessert.

For Chinese families, the New Year is a chance to spend time together, celebrate the past year, and look forward to the future. The symbolism surrounding New Year foods intends to guarantee success and joy for the family in the upcoming year. Almost like a combination of the American Thanksgiving tradition and the Western conception of New Year's Eve, Chinese festivities revolve around good food and the pleasures of family.