I somehow wish I could convey to you how much I love Chinese New Year. Words on a screen can’t do it; they can’t help you understand the warm magic of our new year celebration, reigned in every year by a host of family, games, drink, lights, and most of all – food. It’s the food that takes you there. This is a celebration at the heart of what we as humans hope for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for the world in the year ahead: prosperity, good fortune, laughter, and good good eating.
This is a 16 day festival, but the New Year’s Eve dinner is believed to be one of the most important meals of the year. Big families and friends of many generations sit together around tables, enjoying food and each other’s company. We celebrate wholeness at this meal: it’s really the meal’s theme. We serve traditional foods that symbolize luck, health and good fortune during the whole 16-day festival season, especially New Year’s Eve, and these are believed to bring good luck for the coming year. It’s also important to understand that not only do the dishes themselves matter, but the preparation and the methods of both serving and eating are important parts of the entire festival.
Chinese people believe that a good start to the year will lead to a lucky year. Traditionally, Chinese celebrated the start of a new year of farm work, and wished for a good harvest (when most were farmers). This has evolved to celebrating the start of a new business year and wishing for wealth, health and prosperity. As you plan your Chinese New Year menus, the most common foods at the table include meatballs, dumplings, fish, noodles and glutinous rice cake (niangao). My family also has a few additions, such as a whole duck and Eight Treasure Rice Pudding. Again, wholeness is the theme!
I’m sharing here photos and recipes from my own dinner table to help you get a feel for how this food lives and works in a real, lived Chinese New Year celebration. You’ll have had dumplings – most people have. You’ll have had Chinese noodles. These dishes are almost too familiar – especially their Westernized versions. What I want to share with you is Chinese food from a Chinese home, made for Chinese New Year, because it is the food, and the families that make this food as they have done for thousands of years, that are at the heart of what Chinese New Year is about.
Chinese Dumplings 饺子 Jiǎozi
With a history of more than 1,800 years, dumplings are a classic Chinese food, and a traditional dish eaten on Chinese New Year’s Eve,
Chinese dumplings can be made to look like Chinese silver ingots (which are not bars, but boat-shaped, oval, and turned up at the two ends). There are some that believe the more dumplings you eat during the New Year celebrations, the wealthier you will be in the New Year. Dumplings are generally made with minced meat and finely-chopped vegetables wrapped in a thin and elastic dough skin. Popular fillings are minced pork, diced shrimp, fish, ground chicken, beef, and vegetables. Normally cooked either by boiling, steaming or frying.
黄金万两 (hwung-jin wan-lyang/): ‘A ton of gold’ — a wish for prosperity.