10 February will mark the start of the new year on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar, otherwise known as “Chinese New Year”.
2024 is the year of the dragon, the fifth of the 12-year cycle of the animals, and around 2 billion people will celebrate the Lunar New Year across the globe.
Alongside the famous image of the red lanterns, an integral part of these celebrations is the food consumed. Families around the world will come together to enjoy meals packed with delicious flavours.
The dishes cooked also often contain some very interesting symbolism, filled with hope for a good year ahead.
So, whether you are celebrating the start of the Lunar New Year, or simply want to enjoy some of the tantalising delicacies cooked up at this time of year, read on to discover five traditional Chinese New Year dishes.
Traditional Chinese dumplings, or “jiaozi”, are small parcels of dough that come with a variety of fillings. They often contain pork, shrimp, chicken, beef, or vegetables, but you could realistically put any combination of savoury fillings within them.
Jiaozi are said to symbolise wealth and prosperity for the year ahead, with the shape modelled on the Chinese silver ingot used as currency in Imperial China.
In fact, it is believed that the more jiaozi you eat at the celebrations, the more money you will make in the new year!
The little dumplings are also thought to banish the previous year, marking the start of the new calendar with hope for the year ahead.
When you make jiaozi, ensure that you present them in straight lines, rather than a circle. That is because they are supposed to represent forward movement in the new year, rather than being cyclical and causing you to repeat the same behaviours from the previous 12 months.
2. Fried spring rolls
Fried spring rolls are a quintessential part of the Chinese takeaway as we know it in England, and are also a traditional dish for the new year celebrations.
The deep-fried dough rolls are often filled with pork or duck alongside vegetables such as beansprouts, but you can also make these with just vegetables if you prefer.
The crispy golden-brown exterior of spring rolls makes them look somewhat like a bar of gold bullion. This is why spring rolls, much like the jiaozi dumplings, also represent wealth, prosperity, and good fortune for the year to come.
3. Longevity noodles
With chow mein being another firm favourite of a Chinese takeaway in England, noodles are an integral part of any Chinese meal. But they take on a special significance at new year, being known as “longevity noodles”.
Traditionally, these noodles are made to be longer than you might normally expect, symbolising good health and longevity. In fact, it is said that the longer the noodle, the longer your life will be.
That is why some recipes may encourage you to try and make these noodles as long as two feet in length. However, make sure you do not accidentally break a noodle during cooking, as this is said to represent a life cut short!
You can serve these noodles either fried or in a broth, alongside any meat or vegetables that you prefer.
4. Whole steamed fish
Symbolising the hope of abundance and surplus in the new year, as well as promoting family unity, a whole steamed fish can make an excellent centrepiece for a Chinese New Year feast.
You can choose various types of fish for this course, from carp and catfish to sea bass or trout. The Mandarin words for these different fish are often homophones for words meaning “luck” or “surplus”, which is where this tradition stems from.
You do not have to steam the fish, and can choose to boil or braise it instead if you prefer. Just make sure to serve it with the head and tail still attached, as this represents a good beginning and end to the year.
5. Sweet rice balls
It is of course important to have a dessert for Chinese New Year, and sweet rice balls (“tang yuan”) are a great option for this.
Tang yuan are small balls made from water and glutinous rice flour that make for a round and chewy delight. You can put sweet fillings in them if you plan on having them for dessert, perhaps using chopped peanuts or preserves.
Alternatively, you can choose savoury fillings such as meat and vegetables if you do not have a particularly sweet tooth.
These tasty treats symbolise unity and family togetherness, thanks to their shape and the fact that they are often served at family gatherings.
You can either deep fry your tang yuan, or serve them in syrup or a hot broth.
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This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.