With the Lunar New Year upon us, it is a time when families and friends around the world gather—and eat a lot of food that's steeped in meaning (often cooked and prepared beforehand so they may enjoy the feast and the rest). And you don't have to be Asian to partake in the festivities.
We're revisiting our past suggestions for what you can devour during the holiday (which can last days in China). And given that Chinese people love superstitions AND food, we're giving you eight, yes, eight, examples of what to prepare (or order!) and why:
DUMPLINGS: Fried or steamed jiaozi look like old-fashioned Chinese ingots.
LETTUCE: The Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like "growing fortune." One traditional way to eat lettuce is to dip it into boiling water (with a little bit of oil) and then put oyster sauce on it.
SHANGHAINESE-STYLE EGG ROLLS: These egg rolls have a thinner wrapping and their golden shape looks like gold bars.
SHREDDED VEGETABLE SALAD: Carrots, soybeans, black mushrooms, bamboo shoots and many other veggie options (sometimes ten) make up this dish, which can be prepared in advance and in great volume to last all 15 days of New Year celebrations. The soybeans are served whole, because their shape looks like the ruyi, the talisman symbolizing good luck (ruyi means "whatever you wish").
WHOLE CHICKEN: Whole chicken is special for celebrations, since usually chicken is diced into smaller pieces in dishes. During Chinese New Year, try a drunken chicken or smoked chicken.
"LION'S HEAD" MEATBALLS: This dish consists of four big meatballs that are browned and then simmered in a pot of sauce and bok choy (the meatballs are the head, the bok choy is the mane). The roundness of the meatball symbolizes wholeness and togetherness of the family.
WHOLE FISH: The Chinese word for fish is yu, which sounds like the word for surplus and excess—which the Chinese take as "more fortune."
EIGHT TREASURE RICE: With roots in Chinese folklore and history, this dessert is made from glutinous rice and bean paste—plus eight toppings (items like red dates, lotus seeds, walnuts, raisins, pine nuts, dates, dried apricot, pistachio).
SWEET RICE CAKE: Round and sweet, niangao are popular because nian sounds like "year" and gao sounds like "high" in Chinese, so it's like starting the year off on a high (and sweet) note (another translation might be "every year, you get better and better"). These cakes are steamed and then sliced; sometimes they're are also dipped into egg and fried.
ORANGES/KUMQUATS/TANGERINE/POMELOS: The word for these fruits sound like good fortune.
TANGYUAN (GLUTINOUS RICE BALLS): While there are many kinds of tangyuan—balls made from glutinous rice flour—a popular kind is one that's filled like black sesame paste, sort of like mochi. The tangyuan, served in a fermented rice wine soup (it's not really boozy), are a mainstay during holidays like Lunar New Year, Winter Solstice and Chinese Valentine's Day, and symbolize togetherness.
Here are some Year of the Rat festivities happening around NYC in the coming weeks.