What to Cook to Have a Lucky Lunar New Year

It's the year of the dog again! And here at the University of Washington, it is perfect for us dawgs. 

The dog's most defining characteristic is their loyalty. After all, they are man's best friend. In 2018, their element is Earth. Dogs are stubborn and they believe that as long as they work hard, they can accomplish anything they set their minds to because #BeBoundless.

Ringing in the new year, Lunar style, means cleaning the house, avoiding superstitions, getting red packets, and of course stuffing yourself until you almost explode with amazing food. Even if you don't celebrate Lunar New Year yourself, you can definitely still enjoy all the food that those who do celebrate it typically eat, because let's be honest, there's always a good reason to eat. These are just a few things that Asians eat during this time of year and the meanings behind them:


1. Fish

In Chinese, "fish" sounds like "surplus". We have a saying that goes: 年年有魚 or "Nian Nian You Yu" which means "may every year end with ample surplus" or "may you have more than you need every year". This is a play on words because the last character in Chinese is pronounced "yu" which means fish or surplus. Fish is linked to livelihood and survival and we are linked to water and land and we should be thankful. When we have parties or meet other Chinese people, we will say this to them, to wish them surplus at the end of the year and every year.

The most common fish that are eaten are the West Lake Fish, the Crucian Carp, the Chinese Mud Carp, and Catfish.

If you eat fish, make sure to leave some leftovers as a symbol of there being a surplus.


2. Noodles

Noodles for longevity! You might have heard this somewhere before. Longevity noodles are a symbol for, you guessed it: longevity. These noodles are longer than most and their length and unsevered preparation style symbolize a long life. Cutting or breaking the noodles during the cooking process symbolizes bad luck. The longer the noodles are, the more luck the eater will have in the year. 


3. Dumplings

No, not the soup dumplings at Ding Tai Fun. These are the more oval looking steamed ones. Dumplings look like silver ingots, which are boat shaped blocks of steel, silver or gold. Dumplings symbolize wealth and it has been said that the more dumplings one eats during Lunar New Year, the more money they will make in the new year. Now if that isn't an excuse to eat as many dumplings as possible, I don't know what is. Dumplings have been around for more than 1,800 years, so it's definitely a time-honored tradition. 

The Chinese also have a saying for dumplings, which is "招财进宝" or "Zhao Cai Jin Bao" which roughly translates to  "bringing in wealth and treasure". Honestly, you don't have to tell me twice to eat dumplings. If no one can find me during Lunar New Year, I'm probably just stuffing myself with these.


4. Sweet Rice Balls

A.K.A "tang yuan". This is the main food for the lantern festival. These delicious treats are round glutinous balls that can be filled with sweet flavors like black sesame or red bean, or nothing at all. Their roundness is associated with reunion and being together.

The saying for these sweet treats is "团团圆圆" or "Tuan Tuan Yuan Yuan" which literally translates to "group-group round-round". It is meant to evoke happiness and harmony. It's favored by those who celebrate Lunar New Year since it symbolize a happy family reunion! They're definitely a personal favorite of mine.


5. Glutinous Rice Cake

Glutinous, rice, and cake all in one name of one yummy dish?! Say no more! In Chinese, this dish's name is "Nian Gao" which sounds like "getting higher every year". To the Chinese, they hope that by eating this will symbolize promotions and higher income. The higher you are, the more prosperous your business and you will be.

In ancient times, rices cakes were only used as offerings to the gods and your ancestors. Gradually, they became a traditional dish to eat every Spring Festival and even every day of the year! These rice cakes are typically savory, but can be made with sugar for a sweet treat as well. They traditionally come in oval shapes, but recently it has been popular to make them into fish shapes.


6. Spring Rolls

Spring rolls, also known as egg rolls, symbolize wealth and name is fitting to be eaten during Spring Festival. These rolls are made with dough wrappers that are filled with things like minced meat, vegetables, and vermicelli, and then fried.

These are probably the easiest to find at a restaurant since many places offer them as appetizers.


7. Steamed Chicken

A whole chicken symbolizes family, because one chicken is enough to feed an entire family. People will often keep the head and the claws as a symbol of reunion and rebirth. In Chinese, we often associate chicken feet with wealth because their claws look like they could latch on to coins without ever letting go. For this reason, main workers of a family should be the ones to eat the chicken feet so they, too, can grab onto wealth with a strong grip. 


8. Fruit

And to leave you with the last lucky dish with a lucky number 8, eating certain fruit is also linked with symbols, namely tangerines and pomelo. They are good symbols because they are particularly round and "golden" in color, symbolizing fullness and wealth. Tangerines are both eaten and displayed. They are often displayed in temples as an offering to the gods. There is also a play on words for tangerines because the in Chinese, they sound like the word for success and luck. Pomelos are thought to bring continuous prosperity. If you choose to display these fruits though, make sure you don't set them out in groups of fours as four sounds like death in Chinese and is extreme bad luck!

Happy Lunar New Year everyone! If you can't find me, I'll probably be at the dinner table munching away. Hopefully all this food inspires you to celebrate this joyous holiday with your friends and family as well! 

新年快樂 and 恭喜发财 

Happy New Year and may your year be filled with happiness and wealth!