Chinese New Year lucky foods explained: 10 auspicious dishes and why they’re said to bring health, wealth and happiness
Two fresh fish, dumplings, clams and scallops, kumquats, noodles, puddings – all these and more you should eat for a happy 2018
Chinese people are practical food lovers. The dishes and ingredients served over Chinese New Year are meant to bring wealth, health and happiness in the coming year (along with some babies, too) – but they’re also delicious. There are far too many auspicious foods to list, so here are some basics.
Tangerines, mandarins and kumquats
During CNY, in the lobbies of businesses and apartment buildings, you will see potted miniature trees with these round, small orange fruit.
The fruit is said to resemble gold, so having this in your house or place of business is supposed to bring in wealth. I wouldn’t consume the fruit on these trees, which will be wilted by the time the holiday is over (and they’ve probably been sprayed with pesticides); instead, if you want fruit to eat, buy it from a market. Other citrus fruits such as oranges and pomelos are also plentiful at this time of year; the former are said to bring luck, the latter plenty.
This is a round or octagonal box kept filled with sweets over the entire new years celebrations. Usually, there’s room for eight (the number symbolises wealth) types of sweets around the perimeter, with another section in the centre.
The selection varies, but there are usually wrapped candies (Sugus and/or White Rabbits, gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins), roasted melon seeds (to bring children) that have been dyed red (an auspicious colour), and an array of candied sweets: lotus seeds (more for children), lotus root (abundance), winter melon (good luck), and sesame seed-dusted glazed walnuts (wisdom and happiness).
Theses “pudding cakes” (as William C. Hu calls them in Chinese New Year: Fact & Folklore) can be sweet or savoury. Hong Kong chefs get wildly inventive with both types, but the traditional sweet variety is made with glutinous rice flour (which gives it a chewy texture), sugar and flavourings such as red dates, water chestnuts and coconut (for something truly luxurious, try the ones with bird’s nest).
A pair of fresh fish
The Chinese word for fish sounds like surplus, so eating fish will bring an excess of wealth. Serving two – one to be eaten on the eve of Chinese New Year, and the second on the day, will bring in a surplus of wealth into the next year.
Clams (in the shell) and fresh or dried scallops
Because of their resemblance to old Chinese coins, they’re said to bring wealth.
The most common savoury version is loh bok goh, made with grated white radish, rice flour and dried mushrooms, Chinese sausage and dried shrimp. “Goh” sounds like tall or rising, so this is said to bring promotions and getting ahead in the upcoming year. Sweet and savoury goh is best reheated by cutting it into slices and pan-frying in lightly oiled pan.
This is a northern Chinese custom, although it’s migrated to many southern Chinese families. Depending how they’re shaped and cooked (pan-fried or boiled), they can resemble gold bars or silver ingots, which will bring wealth into the household.
Eaten because of their resemblance to gold bars.
During Chinese New Year, the bird should be served whole – with head and feet attached – to symbolises prosperity and togetherness.
These should be long noodles, which represent long life, and the longer the better.
Faat choi jai. This is a dish full of symbolism. It’s a simmered vegetarian dish (modern vegetarians might protest at the term, because it usually contains dried oysters) that is eaten on the first day of Chinese New Year.
In addition to the oysters (good luck), it also has faat choi (eaten for prosperity, this is often called hairy moss seaweed, but it actually grows on land, and harvesting it is said to cause soil erosion), bamboo shoots (wealth, new beginnings), water chestnuts (togetherness), lotus root, dried bean curd skin (blessings and happiness), many types of mushrooms, ginkgo nuts (wealth) and golden noodles/lily stems (more wealth), with lettuce (even more wealth) added just before serving.