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Are you ready to ring in the Year of the Dragon on February 10th with some tasty Chinese New Year dishes? Food plays an important role in Chinese culture, embodying more than just sustenance; it is a medium through which stories, traditions, and blessings are shared, especially during the celebration of Chinese New Year (Spring Festival).
Whether you’re thinking of hitting up your favorite spot or whipping up a festive storm in your kitchen, these Chinese New Year dishes are rich in tradition and bursting with flavors that capture the spirit of the Spring Festival. I hope these cherished recipes will inspire you to dive into the delicious world of Chinese New Year cuisine and maybe find a few new favorites to add to your celebration.
Chinese New Year Dishes
Every family has their own traditions when it comes to celebrating Spring Festival and there are certain dishes that are eaten not just because they taste delicious, but we also eat them because of the special meaning. I hope you enjoy reading about them and the significance behind why we eat these Chinese New Year dishes.
Fish (鱼 yú)
Fish represents the hope for a surplus in the following year, making it an essential dish to eat during Chinese New Year. From whole fish with a soy glaze to fish balls in hot pot, there are many ways to enjoy fish on this holiday.
This tradition stems from a linguistic pun, as the word for ‘fish’ in Chinese, ‘yu,’ sounds like the word for ‘surplus’ or ‘abundance,’ symbolizing wishes for prosperity and wealth in the year to come.
Meatballs (团圆 tuán yuán)
Meatballs symbolize being together with loved ones, underscoring why traveling home for Chinese New Year is often referred to as one of the largest annual human migrations in the world. Being with family is the most important aspect of the Spring Festival, and sharing a plate of meatballs together holds significant meaning.
Our family loves to make pearl meatballs because they are not only simple but also delicious. In fact, we usually plan to make this favorite Chinese New Year dish at least twice during the multi-day celebration. This dish embodies the spirit of ‘团圆’ (tuán yuán), a term that signifies reunion and unity, highlighting the importance of family togetherness during this holiday.
Dumplings (饺子 jiǎo zi)
Dumplings represent wealth and prosperity, making them another must-have Chinese New Year dish. When we’re celebrating with my mom, she makes wrappers from scratch so we can enjoy steamed dumplings. One of my favorite parts of making dumplings is that we can choose all types of fillings, and it becomes a fun activity in which the whole family can participate.
Plus, we play ‘guess who wrapped this dumpling’ when it’s time to eat them. Can you tell the difference in folding styles among the dumplings in the photo above?
Since 饺子 (jiǎo zi) is said to be the symbol of hope for a prosperous new year due to its resemblance to the shape of ancient Chinese gold ingots, when I was younger, my grandparents would put a penny inside one of the dumplings to bring extra fortune to the person who got the dumpling.
Check out my pork and celery dumpling recipe.
Pork (五花肉 wǔ huā ròu)
This sweet and savory braised pork belly is part of our family tradition and an indulgence during Chinese New Year. Pork belly is sometimes referred to as ‘five layers of happiness,’ and who wouldn’t want to start the year off right with a generous helping of happiness? Pigs are also associated with wealth and prosperity, making pork belly a key ingredient in many popular Chinese New Year dishes.
Shrimp (虾 xiā)
Shrimp represents happiness and joy in Chinese culture. This plate of golden deliciousness is my family’s recipe for fried shrimp. I used to watch my grandparents make these in their outdoor wok, and they would let me taste one before the plate made it to the dinner table. My mom and I have carried on this family recipe and continue to make it for the holiday. This is also one of Joe’s favorite Chinese New Year dishes and his number one request whenever my mom asks what she can make for us during our visits.
Sweet Rice Balls (汤圆 tāng yuán)
Sweet rice balls symbolize reunion, completeness, and a smooth and harmonious future. This tasty dessert is traditionally eaten on the last day of the 15-day Spring Festival celebration, marking the Lantern Festival. These sweet and sticky rice balls come in a variety of fillings, ranging from black sesame to sweet red bean paste, and include my family’s favorite: chopped peanuts. While it’s easier to purchase pre-made sweet rice balls, the process of making these sweet rice balls with family is as much a part of the celebration as eating them.
If you are interested in trying sweet rice balls, you can find them for sale at my go to online Asian grocery store or at most local Asian grocery stores.
I hope you enjoyed reading some of the Chinese New Year dishes we eat together as a family. Let me know what some of your favorite dishes are and whether there is a special meaning behind the dish by leaving a comment below.
Wishing you and your family happiness and good health in the New Year! (新年快乐! xīn nián kuài lè!)
If you are interested in learning more about Lunar New Year, look for events and activities in a city near you. Last year, we found an event hosted by the Buddha Blessed Temple in Louisville, Kentucky which included dragon dance and lion dance performances.