Chinese New Year marks a new beginning and is all about gathering with friends and family to welcome the new year. It falls on 22 January this year and is a 16-day festival that ends on the Lantern Festival. While reuniting with our loved ones, one of the main centerpieces of every table is food. Lunar New Year food entails a feast of sorts, like nin gou and cakes, and these foods are eaten for auspicious reasons to up the luck factor. See which foods to prepare when hosting a gathering or what to expect when visiting families during the joyous season.

Nin gou (年糕)

packages of cny cake nin gou
Traditional nian gao made of rice flour and brown sugar (© Ika Rahma via Canva)

What’s sticky yet sweet and irresistible? Chinese glutinous rice cakes! Known as nin gou or nian gao in Mandarin, these delectables are made of rice flour and brown sugar. When pronounced aloud, nin gou sounds like “year higher”, so eating this Chinese New Year cake symbolises progress, growth and advancement. It’s believed that people will elevate in life and become prosperous, whether getting promoted in their careers or advancing in their studies. With a lot of culinary innovation, salty renditions of this traditionally sweet food are also available.

Red bean cake (紅豆糕)

Nian gao with red beans
Close-up of a steamed red bean cake (© Min Jing via Canva)

Red bean cake is synonymous with red bean nin gou. The significance of this Chinese New Year cake doesn’t stray far from nin gou alone, which means to advance in life. Adding red beans into the mix enhances good luck as red beans represent good fortune spread among you and your family. Red itself is quite a lucky colour, as well, and is associated with all things positive and passionate.

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Poon choi (盆菜)

Deluxe abalone poon choi
Poon choi that includes premium ingredients such as whole abalone and sea cucumbers (© ThamKC via Canva)

Instilling a sense of family unity and reunion are Chinese New Year dishes packed into one communal serving, better known as poon choi. Hence, poon choi represents unity, bringing people together, abundance and wealth. The clay pot or metal basin it’s normally served in is filled to the brim with heaps of different dishes mostly prepared days in advance, like braised pork knuckle, abalone, dried scallops, and an assortment of vegetables. The mouthwatering flavours come together for an ultimate feast.

Yau gok (炸油角)

Peanut puffs
Traditional deep-fried dumplings for the Chinese New Year (© c yung via Canva)

If you have to save your quota for one deep-fried food, save it for yau gok. Yau gok are deep-fried dumplings especially unique to Canton areas. They’re a CNY food shaped into the historic Chinese currency of gold ingot, so it only makes sense that they have come to signify wealth and good fortune. The dumplings are made of glutinous rice dough and filled with a variety of condiments, from savoury items like minced pork and mushroom to sweet ones like peanuts and sesame paste. You can find them in miniature sizes, making them perfect Chinese New Year snacks to munch on! 

Longevity noodles (長壽麵)

Cantonese egg noodles on wooden table
Stir-fried longevity noodles with dark caramel sauce (© marhero via Canva)

As its name suggests, longevity noodles (cheung sau min) are symbolic of living a long, happy and healthy life. Upon eating them one may notice the lengthier than usual type of noodles used in the dish. The noodles are purposely left uncut to represent a long life. It’s a longstanding belief that those with long faces live a longer life. As a result, longevity noodles have come to represent a long life well lived metaphorically. Longevity noodles can be enjoyed stir-fried or as soup noodles. 

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Tong yuen (湯圓)

Rice dumplings with black sesame seeds
Tang yuan with black sesame fillings symbolise togetherness (© Tyas Indayanti via Canva)

End a Chinese New Year feast with some deliciously sweet rice dumplings (tong yuen). These mochi-like dumplings are filled with a variety of mashed condiments, like peanuts and black sesame, that auspiciously mean bringing sweetness into one’s life. Their smooth, round shapes represent harmony and wholeness and bring family and friends together. Eating them with your loved ones brings happiness and good fortune in the new year. Tang yuan are perhaps the most devoured traditional Chinese New Year food for dessert.

Chyun hap (全盒)

Auspicious candy box for chinese new year filled with nuts and sweets
Chyun hap is served to visiting guests during Chinese New Year (© yayalineage via Canva)

While going house to house to visit friends and family over the holiday, many would be greeted with chyun hap, a tray of togetherness. This tray is more of a ‘candy box’ that’s filled with many sweet delights, like sweet lotus seeds (tong lin zi), sunflower seeds, sweet lotus roots (tong lin ngau) and sweet winter melon (tong dong gau). This blend of the best Chinese New Year snacks represents different meanings. For example, sunflower seeds represent having many sons and grandsons as the word seed also means children. But overall, the tray of treats symbolizes good luck and fortune, and everyone sharing in the joy will live a happy, wholesome life. The shape of the box is round, enhancing the meaning of togetherness. 

Braised dried oyster with black moss (發財好市)

Braised dried oysters with black moss
Hou see fat choi (© uckyo via Adobe Stock)

Want to head into the new year blessed with prosperity and good fortune? Making a debut during Chinese New Year is braised dried oysters with iconic hair-like black moss (faat choi hou si). This speciality dish is auspiciously known to bring great things and abundance. Dried oysters sound like “great things” when pronounced in Cantonese, while black moss, also known as hair vegetable, sounds like “be prosperous.” Both ingredients are quite expensive, so if you happen to be in the presence of this dish, remember to serve everyone and yourself a generous portion!

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Sesame balls (煎堆)

Sesame balls with taro, custard and peanuts fillings
Flavour-filled sesame balls (© Maria fe Booc’s Images via Canva)

Crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside are sesame balls (jin deui). Sesame balls are made of glutinous rice flour, loaded with sweet fillings to relish like red bean and black sesame paste, that are then rolled into a ball and coated with sesame seeds and fried. Sesame is believed to bring in good fortune and happiness. Interestingly enough when you bite into the fried ball, a mouth shape forms in the soft treat, which has come to mean lots of laughter and happiness for the new year.

Sesame cookies (笑口棗)

round sesame cookies for chinese new year
‘Laughing’ sesame cookies are a classic family favourite (© sonictk via Flickr)

Quite similar to sesame balls are sesame cookies (siu hau jou). These are so called because the dough splits open into what looks like a Pacman-esque smile when baked. Rather than being fried balls of joy, sesame cookies are as you would imagine cookies to be, but garnished with sesame seeds. As aforementioned, sesame represents good fortune and happiness. Eating them would bring more positivity and radiance into your life. Sesame cookies make a great gifting option when you make your rounds visiting friends and family over the Lunar New Year.

Header image credits: Asia Images Gorup via Canva

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A hermit at heart, Agnes likes to connect with the world across various platforms that share a wealth of content on beauty, culture, lifestyle, and travel. She loves using the art of language to portray her voice and poor sense of humour whenever possible. When she’s not nerding around or head deep into a piece, you’re sure to find her spending time outdoors with friends and family or going down the Pinterest rabbit hole to find all sorts of inspiration she can!

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