Here’s what to eat for CNY to bring you all the luck you need this Year of the Ox:
In Mandarin, “fish” is pronounced similarly to “surplus” which is linked to the Chinese belief that having a surplus of wealth at the end of the year means carrying the leftovers to the following year. Saving enough during the year, you will have excess resources for the coming year.
Fish is often served steamed, but boiled and braised dishes are also common. Common “lucky” fishes used are: crucian carp (jìyú) which sounds like “good luck” (jí); Chinese mud carp (lǐyú) whose first syllable sounds like gifts, (lǐ), and catfish (niányú) which sounds “year surplus” (nián yú). Moreover, in relation to the significance of surplus, the dish should be the last dish eaten and must have some leftover.
Dumpling is one of the most common lucky dishes served during this holiday. Often shaped to look like Chinese silver ingots (boat-shaped), wrappers can either be the common white wrappers associated with silver ingots or egg wrappers for gold. It is believed that the more dumplings you eat, the more money you will receive. Take note that one dumpling dish is off-limits during new year as it “implies a poor and difficult future”: Chinese sauerkraut (酸菜 suāncài /swann-tseye/). Other interesting practices include putting a white thread or copper coin in one of the dumplings and whoever gets the *lucky dumpling will possess longevity or become rich, respectively. It is important that dumplings be arranged in lines and not circles to avoid one’s life from going in circles.
Did you know that spring rolls are called spring rolls because they are traditionally eaten during Lunar New Year, which is also called “Spring Festival”? One of my favorite dishes to celebrate the new year, spring rolls are believed to be lucky as they resemble gold bars. In fact, when eating spring rolls, people say ‘黄金万两’ (hwung-jin wan-lyang), which means “a ton of gold,” as a wish for wealth.
Glutinous rice cake
Eaten during the eve of LNY, glutinous rice cake (年糕 Niángāo), also called New Year cake, sounds similar to “getting higher year-after-year by year” which means more success in the coming year. It is believed that the higher one is, be it in height, grades, or position, the better one’s life is. Rice cakes are often served as a sweet treat in South China whereas North China usually prepares them as savory stir fried dishes.
Sweet rice balls
Often served on the day of the Lantern Festival, or the fifteenth day of LNY, tāngyuán or sweet rice balls, is a popular dish which symbolizes “family togetherness.” Its lucky connotation comes from its circular shape and pronunciation (tang yuan) which are associated with unity and reunion (tuan yuan), respectively, which is perfect for the world’s largest human migration. A similar tradition would be serving a whole chicken to signify the reunion of the whole family.
A popular tradition followed by Filipinos during birthdays, long-life noodles (长寿面 Chángshòu Miàn /chung-show myen/) are popular in North China as they, like their name states, symbolize longevity or long life. Traditionally, longevity noodles are prepared as one long noodle strand but nowadays all you see are noodles about 2 feet long at most. It is believed that the longer the noodle the luckier you will be, and that breaking the noodle from the plate to your mouth can signify bad luck or cutting one’s life short.
Oranges and Pomelos
You’ve heard of having 12 round-shaped fruits for New Years Eve but did you know that oranges (or tangerines) and pomelos are the favored fruits for luck? This is due to their round and golden color which are associated with fullness and riches. Just like most food items in this list, homonyms play a role in their association to luck. Oranges (橙 chéng) sounds similar to the chinese pronunciation of success (成) whereas tangerines (桔 jú) are spelt with the Chinese character for luck (吉 jí). On the other hand, it is believed that the more pomelos you eat, the more wealth you will bring. This is due to pomelos (柚 yòu) sounding similar to both ‘to have’ (有 yǒu) and ‘again’ (又 yòu).