Chinese New Year Food

With the Chinese New Year around the corner, I would like to introduce some Chinese food traditions from my view point. Different regions might have different practices.

From where I came from, i.e. South East Asia, the Chinese New Year celebration starts on Chinese New Year eve. The family will gather for a family union dinner. The dinner will be one of the more lavish one with whole fish, chicken, dried oyster, black moss (fatt choy), mushroom, etc. The name of the dishes are usually of good fortune, happiness, etc. Some of the name of the dishes are Good Deed will Prosper (Yau Yue Tim Hoe Si), Prosperity in Abundance (Foo Kwai Weng Wah), Happiness All Over (Hee Ha Tai Siew), etc.


In my family, we like to have hotpot on Chinese New Year eve. There is less preparation and everyone will gather around the hotpot to enjoy a meal. It’s all about reunion and sitting down for a meal together in today’s busy world where such occasion is rare.

For the Northern Chinese people, making and eating dumpling on Chinese New Year eve is a way of getting everyone in the kitchen to work and share.  The shape of the dumpling resembles the gold ingot used in the old days in China. It signifies prosperity.

Chinese-Dumpling-300x199Mushroom Dumpling
Cabbage-Dumplings-15-300x200Green Cabbage and Egg Dumpling
Garlic-Chives-Dumpling-300x200Garlic Chives Dumpling
Pan-Fried-Suey-Choy-Dumpling-300x199Pan Fried Napa Cabbage (Suey Choy) Dumpling
Boiled-Pork-Dumplings-18-400x600-200x300Boiled Pork and Cabbage Dumplings

Above are some of the dumpling recipes that were shared on


On the first day of Chinese New Year, my late mum usually cooked a big pot of Vegetarian Dish (Loh Hon Zhai).  Most Buddhists will abstain from meat consumption on the first day because it is believed that this will ensure longevity for them.

On the second day of Chinese New Year, the young generation will visit the older generation and it’s known as “bai nin”. They will bring along auspicious items like mandarin oranges (kum which sounds like gold), peanuts, etc. In South East Asia, two popular items that people bring during such visits are:

Bak-Kwa-300x199Dried Meat (Bak Kwa)
Pork-Floss-300x199Meat Floss

On such visits, the younger generation will receive a red packet (hung pau) from the older generation as a gesture of good blessings.

During such visits, Chinese New Year cakes and goodies will be served.

Tangerine-Cookies-300x199Tangerine Cookies (the word tangerine in Chinese is “kum” which sounds like gold) which signifies prosperity.
Pineapple-Cookies-300x199Pineapple Cookies (Fung Lei So) is also a very popular cookies served during Chinese New Year. I love this a lot.
Chinese-Turnip-Cake-300x200Chinese Turnip Cake (Lo Bak Go) is usually served as snack during Chinese New Year. Daikon is usually in season during winter.The Chinese Turnip Cake can be served steamed or pan fried.
tarocake-24-300x200Taro Cake is similar to the Turnip Cake but it’s made with taro instead.
Steamed-Rice-Cake-300x200Steamed Rice Cake which signifies growth since the cake rises when steamed.
fagao-10-300x200Steamed Fatt Ko, another version of steamed rice cake made with brown sugar or palm sugar.
Nian-Gao-300x199Chinese New Year Cake (Nian Gao) which the Chinese name sounds like growing every year.
bakedniangao-11-300x200This is a baked version of the Nian Gao.
Kueh-Bangkit-300x199Kueh Bangkit is a popular cookies made during Chinese New Year in Malaysia.

The seventh day of the Chinese New Year is known as “Yern Yat” which means it’s everyone’s birthday.

Yue Sang

In Malaysia, we celebrate the seventh day with a dish called Fish Salad (Yue Sang). It’s a colourful dish made with shredded vegetables, crackers, raw fish and plum sauce.

Lo Sang

The act of eating this dish is called “Lo Sang” where all the participants will toss the ingredients as high as they can and wishing one another good wishes. The usual wishes include “Bo Bo Go Sing”, “Sang Yi Hing Loong”, etc. This is especially popular among businessmen who wishes for prosperity in their businesses.

The Chinese New Year celebration ends on the fifteen day. The fifteen day of Chinese New Year is also known as “Yuen Siew”  or “Chap Go Meh”. Glutinous rice balls are usually served on this day which bring a sweet ending to the celebration.

HK-style-tangyuan-300x200A Hong Kong style tang yuan which is a also common in South East Asia which we usually color them pink.
Taiwanese-Tangyuan-300x225A Taiwanese style Tang Yuan with fermented glutinous rice.
Glutinous-Rice-Ball-with-Sesame-Paste-300x199Glutinous rice Ball with Sesame Peanut filings.

How do you celebrate your Chinese New Year? We love to hear from the readers of various traditions that they practice.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. hungry in tsawwassen

    Very interesting post. Loved hearing about the different dishes and the reasons behind each one. We do a lot of business with companies in Asia and they all shut down for a couple of weeks. They work very long and hard all the rest of the year so I hope they enjoy this occasion as much as it sounds like.

    1. Ben

      Hi Hungry in Tsawwassen: I know what you mean when you say that the Chinese work long and hard. I remember that they told me they only have 5 days of vacation every year and that it is very common for State Owned Enterprises. Granted, they have 2 weeks of public holidays but still I felt rather guilty telling them that have 22 days of vacation every year and this too is on top of 10 days of public holidays in Canada. Ben

  2. liz

    Nian Gao in the south is not the same as that from the north. In my experience, specifically Shanghai where dishes of the mini tongue depressor noodles that are also called rice cakes are served during the New Year. I found this out during a conversation when we realized we were talking about 2 different things. Wish they were called noodles or pasta instead of cakes.

    1. LotusRapper

      Liz is correct. Shanghai (or Northern) new year cake (nian gao) is almost just like Japanese mochi or Korean tteok (glutinous rice pounded into paste, then formed to different shapes):

      And is usually stir-fried with snow cabbage and shredded pork (but sometimes served as a soupy dish):

      I never liked it as a kid, but now as adult I tolerate them. In fact I ordered the stir-fried version (with soy sauce) at Long’s Noodle House just last week, just like Ben did here:

  3. LotusRapper

    For our family (at least in my own growing-up years), CNY reminds me of a delectable variety of “BBQ” meats like cured dried ham, Chinese sausages, cured dried duck and my Mom’s specialty dish, a sort of cold salad of julienned vegetables and mushrooms called “Su Shi Jing”. And of course the requisite assortment of jiao zi (boiled dumplings), buns, noodles and fried fritters and other candied treats.

  4. Betty

    It almost the same in Hawaii but certain thing are different. We never have fatt gau or called steamed rice cupcake. It a Taishan custom for most of the Chinese in Hawaii are Jungshanese. We do make a honeycomb cookie that fried call Chinese Pretzal and gin dui and nin gau. My late father used to make the jai and mom and popo make gin dui and gau.

    We never get big amount of red envelopes money for they say it make the child greedy and vain. Just enough to spend for little thing and called lucky money.

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