What do you eat for your Christmas dinner? Do you eat Stuffing turkey, ham, apple pies or fruitcakes? Correspondingly, what do Chinese people eat for celebrating their Chinese New Year? To know the answers, you’ve come to the right place.
Just like Christmas dinner in Western countries, the family reunion dinner on Chinese New Year’s Eve matters a lot for Chinese people. It is a grand occasion for the family to come together and share the happy time.
The dishes served for dinner, however, vary in different areas of China. Generally, we say the Northerners love pasta while the Southerners prefer rice. But when it comes to the family banquet for Chinese New Year, things seem to get more complicated.
1. Steamed Fish: Always Have More Than You Wish For
Fish is one of the main dishes commonly eaten for the New Year dinner throughout the whole country; fish is “余yú” in Chinese, a word symbolizing surplus. so eating fish stands for: “always have more than you wish for”.
It is important that the fish is served with the head and tail intact to ensure a good start and finish, and to avoid bad luck throughout the year. The general way to cook fish is to either steam or braise it.
2. Chicken: Good Luck!
Cantonese Poached Chicken
Chicken “jī” (鸡) is a homophone for “吉jí”, which means good luck and auspice in Chinese culture.
Some places where there are well-preserved traditional customs will serve a whole chicken on the dinner table to show happiness and reunion. Before the New Year’s Eve dinner, the Cantonese Hakkas worship gods and their ancestors with a free-ranging chicken to wish for a burgeoning and kicking life in the new year.
Chicken dishes for family reunion dinner including:
- In Northeast of China: Stewed Chicken with Mushrooms
- Shanghai: Drunk Chicken
- Chengdu: Braised Rooster
- In South of China (Guilin, Guangzhou, Hong Kong): Cantonese Poached Chicken, Chicken Soup
3. Pork: Prosperous Life
Shanghai-style Braised Pork Belly
In rural areas of China, it is a tradition to kill a domestic pig for the Spring Festival, to comfort a year’s hard work. People who don’t raise pigs regard eating pork at family reunion dinner as a symbol of rich life.
- In Northeast of China: Double Cooked Pork Slices
- Beijing: Braised Pork Balls in Gravy
- Shanghai: Shanghai-style Braised Pork Belly, Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs
- In South of China (Guilin, Guangzhou, Hong Kong): Mei Cai Kou Rou (Steamed Pork with Preserved Mustard), Char Siu (Chinese BBQ pork)
4. Shrimp: Laugh Out Loud Every Day
Shrimp Meat with Longjing Tea
Your mouth will look like you are saying “hahaha” when saying shrimp, “xiā 虾”in Chinese. People eat shrimp at this most important dinner to wish a happy life for the coming new year.
- In Northeast of China: Braised Prawns
- Shanghai: Sautéed Shelled Shrimps
- In South of China (Guilin, Guangzhou, Hong Kong): Scalded (Boiled) Prawns
5. Dumplings: Changes from the Old and to the New
Dumplings, “j iǎo zi 饺子” in Chinese, sound like “交子”, a must-eat side dish in Northern China, which means changes from the old and to the new. Because it is shaped similar to a gold ingot, eating dumplings on New Year’s Eve also has the meaning of “ushering in wealth and prosperity”.
What’s interesting is that people who eat the dumplings occasionally stuffed with special materials like a coin, a candy, a peanut, or a red date, will have the best luck in the New Year.
6. Tang Yuan: Family Reunion
Tang Yuan- sweet soup with balls- is a symbol of family reunion in Chinese culture. Corresponding to the Northerners eating dumplings, the Southerners are used to eating Tang Yuan on New Year’s Eve, which shows the wishes of happiness and reunion.
7. Spring Rolls: Ten Thousand Taels of Gold
Spring rolls- Chun Juan or Chun Bing in Chinese- are golden fried pastries from the south of China, with those from Shanghai and Guangdong being the best known.
The name is intrinsically linked to the Spring Festival. The Chinese have had the custom of having spring rolls since ancient times, to mark the end of winter and to welcome a lively spring.
8. Vegetables: Hardworking and Make Fortune
Grambled Garlic Chives with Eggs
The Chinese New Year dinner is mostly meat-based. Of course it needs some embellishments. Every dish served for the dinner has a special purpose, and vegetables have no exception.
1) Celery, “qín cài 芹菜”or, “qín” pronounced the same as “勤”, which means hardworking in Chinese. It represents that parents hope their kids work hard in the New Year.
2) Lettuce, “saang coi” is similar to “make fortune” in Cantonese. Lettuce is cooked with oyster sauce and sprinked with some fried mashed garlic, a dish meaning “gold bars make fortune.”
3) Garlic chives, “jǐu cài 韭菜”, “jǐu” sounds the same with “久”, which means long and everlasting in Chinese. So eating garlic chives at Chinese New Year means: “good days will be long-lasting”.
9. Desserts: Nian Gao
Nian Gao, New Year’s cake or rice cake, sounds like “getting higher year by year” in Chinese. The higher you are, the more prosperous your business is. Hence the Year Cake symbolizes achieving new heights in the coming year.
Experience Chinese New Year Tour with China Travel
Experience Spring Festival with Locals
Spring Festival is the most important celebration of the year to nearly all Chinese people. During the festival, people use the color red, representing good luck, to show their happiness.
If you tour China during the Chinese New Year period, you will see all the streets filled with lanterns and Spring Festival couplets. To maximize your travel experience, we have designed several sample itineraries for your inspiration:
- 8-Day China Experience Trip (Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai)
- 11-Day Glories of China (Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin, Yangshuo, Shanghai)
- 11-Day China Impression Journey (Beijing, Xi’an, Chongqing, Yangtze, Yichang, Shanghai)