The Lunar New Year is not just one of the biggest celebrations on the Chinese calendar, but the reunion dinner eaten during the festival is hands down the most delicious highlight.
Most things on the table at reunion dinners are steeped in symbolism and a belief that they will bring good fortune to those who eat them. That’s why, for example, reunion dinners often have eight courses—the number eight is considered lucky in Chinese culture.
From whole fish to hand-pulled noodles, here are some of the dishes you can expect to find on the menu during Chinese New Year and why they’re so important.
Dumplings filled with either pork or shrimp are common on Chinese tables all year long, but they’re particularly important during the Lunar New Year. Their shape can look a bit like a Chinese ingot, which may be where the legend that says the more dumplings you eat during reunion dinner, the more money you’ll have in the coming year originated.
You’ll find all kinds of seafood on the table during Chinese New Year. Whole steamed fish are supposed to bring abundance in the coming year and shrimp served with crispy rice will bring you happiness and good fortune.
Rich, fatty pork is yet another symbol of wealth during the New Year’s celebration. It’s often in dumplings, but also features in dishes all its own like roasts and stir fries.
Make barbecue pork
Like the name suggests, longevity noodles bring hopes of a long, fruitful life. The longer the individual noodle, the longer your life will be. It’s why noodle dishes during New Year may be hand-pulled instead of cut—to ensure maximum length.
Make longevity noodles
Nian Gao/New Year’s Cake
Made with glutinous rice, these cakes are steamed and can be filled with dates or red bean paste. It’s particularly popular on New Year’s because the words nian gao sound identical to the words for “higher year.”
Make nian gao
Tang Yuan/Rice Balls
In addition to Nian Gao, glutinous rice is used to make sticky, sweet rice balls that can be filled with black sesame end the meal, which also takes place during the first full moon of the year. The balls mimic the shape of the moon and the roundness also represents togetherness for all the family members gathered.
Make sticky rice balls