Longevity noodles are a traditional Chinese New Year dish | Source: Whooli Chen

Flavours of Shanghai: Dishes to Eat on Chinese New Year

Food is an important component of Chinese New Year celebrations. In Chinese culture, certain foods have symbolic meanings and dishes are often served for the meaning they bring to the New Year. Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, usually begins with a feast on New Year’s Eve, before extending for up to 16 days of celebrations. Throughout this period, foods are served and eaten to bring luck, wealth and prosperity into the New Year. While the particular foods are eaten are important, the way these dishes are prepared and served plays a big part in the custom.

Chinese dumplings

Chinese dumplings are distinguishable from other dumplings by their curved, boat-style shape. The popular appetiser is a traditional Chinese New Year’s Eve dish. According to Chinese culture, eating more dumplings during the New Year festivities will result in more money made in the New Year. While dumpling fillings usually consist of minced meat and chopped vegetables, it’s common for New Year’s dumplings to be filled with cabbage and radish for fair skin and a gentle mood.

Fish

Fish is a traditional Chinese New Years food and it comes with some strict rules. Symbolising prosperity, fish is usually eaten on New Year’s Eve in order to bring prosperity into the new year. It’s important to serve the fish with both its head and tail on to symbolise a good beginning to the new year and a good end to the last.

When the fish is placed on the table, its head should always face the eldest and most distinguished guests. It’s also common to serve two fish and save one to bring a surplus in the new year. When it comes to cooking the fish, you have more freedom but it’s most traditionally served steamed with a spicy broth.

Spring rolls

We all love tucking into a box of spring rolls but did you know the name for spring rolls actually derives from the Spring Festival? With its golden colour, the tasty Cantonese appetiser is thought to represent a gold bar and be a symbol of wealth. Filled with vegetables, meat and even some sweet additions, you will find that this dish is popular all over China but particularly in the East China cities of Shanghai, Fujian, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong.

Tangyuan 

Tangyuan or sweet rice balls are traditionally eaten at the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations during the Lantern Festival. However, some areas of Southern China do eat them throughout New Years festivities. The traditional dish represents family togetherness for its round shape and is eaten at a time when loved ones come together. Made from water and glutinous rice flour, the balls are fried or served in a hot broth. Depending on your taste, Tangyuan can be a sweet or savoury dish.

Longevity noodles 

Longevity noodles are long noodles that are meant to give you a long life. In some parts of China, these incredibly long noodles can be up to two feet long with more length symbolising a longer life. But before you go out and buy the longest noodles that you can find, remember that breaking or biting the noodle while it’s cooking may actually signify a shorter life. The noodles are commonly served fried or boiled with plenty of delicious vegetables and meats added to the dish.

Nián gāo

Nián gāo or new year cake is a dish that has been made for thousands of years. In the South of China, the cake is usually sweet with a mochi-like texture but there are many variations that are made in different regions of the country. The Chinese name for the cake is pronounced the same way as the words for tall and high, making the cake a symbol for life improvement. If you eat the cake during the New Year celebrations, it’s traditionally thought that you will have a successful new year.

Tangerines and other citrus fruits

In Chinese culture, tangerines are lucky food. This is largely because the name is pronounced a lot like the words for luck and success but their roundness and orange colour are also meant to represent fulfilment and wealth. Alongside tangerines, other citrus fruits are served for similar reasons. The fruits are often given as a gift and placed on the table and around the home during the Chinese New Year’s celebrations.

Planning your 2022 Chinese New Year? Read about the best Chinese New Year displays around the world.

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