The Lunar New Year is tomorrow! It will be the year 4714, the Year of the Monkey, and the new year is an opportunity for many with Asian heritage and connections to gather—and the most traditional way to celebrate any Asian holiday is to stuff your belly. But you don't have to be Asian to do that!
We're reprising our past suggestions for delicious and auspicious things to eat during the holiday (in China, the holiday lasts seven days!). Since Chinese people love superstitions almost as much as they love food, here are more than eight—why eight?—suggestions on what to order and why:
Fried dumplings (istockphoto)
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.
Spring rolls (Istockphoto)
SHANGHAINESE-STYLE EGG ROLLS: These egg rolls have a thinner wrapping and their golden shape look 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, families are busy cooking many special foods, so chicken is usually cooked in advance, like 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).
Fried nian gao (Shutterstock)
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 glutinous cakes are steamed and the sliced; sometimes then they are also dipped into egg and fried.
ORANGES/KUMQUATS/TANGERINE/POMELOS: The word for these fruits sound like good fortune.
Sesame dumplings (istockphoto)
TANGYUAN (GLUTINOUS RICE BALLS): While there are many kind 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.