With the Lunar New Year upon us—it's 4719, the Year of the Ox—this is traditionally a time when families and friends around the world gather, and eat a lot of food that's steeped in meaning.
"It's the most significant holiday of the year," Museum of Chinese in America curator Herb Tam told Gothamist/WNYC. "It's sort of like our Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, everything rolled into one, which is really important just because of how much we've been through this year with the coronavirus. So I think this year, more than others, it's this symbolism of renewal and rebirth."
While it may be harder to get together with each other, you can still enjoy the food and celebrate virtually, and you don't have to be Asian to appreciate these dishes. 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.
Many of the foods are often cooked and prepared beforehand so people can enjoy the feast and rest.
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 for other 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 Ox festivities happening around NYC; most are virtual.