Image source: Flickr - Gary Stevens
The Chinese New Year holiday is also called Lunar New Year, which coincides with the start of the lunar calendar. The celebration typically lasts for 15 days, with family reunions, traditional feasts, New Year Eve parties, and the exchange of red envelopes. In predominantly Chinese cities, you'll find extravagant lantern festivals at the end of Chinese New Year, signaling the end of the holiday.
Chinese New Year celebrations always include a number of auspicious foods; foods believed to provide good luck in the new lunar year. Many of these foods have names that sound similar to other words and phrases, which are considered lucky.
Fruits: Persimmons' Mandarin name, shi, is close to the expression shi shi ru yi, which roughly translates to a blessing for everything to happen as you wish. Orange is named ju in Mandarin, which is similar to ji, meaning lucky or auspicious. Pomelo, or you zhi, sounds like "to have."
Rice Cakes: Nian gao, which is similar to nian nian gao sheng, a good luck blessing. The rice cakes also celebrate the beginning of the rice harvest in the spring.
Dumplings: Commonly eaten at midnight, they symbolize a changing of the years. The shape also resembles the Chinese tael, which is believed to bring in wealth and treasures the following year.
The New Year's Eve dinner is an important aspect of Chinese New Year and is also called "Reunion Dinner." The dinner is usually quite large and fish is often one of the important dishes served. Its name is yu, similar to a word for surpluses. The phrase nian nian you yu translates into may you have surpluses and bountiful harvests every year. The fish is typically not consumed completely as to "let there be fish every year."
The number of dishes served at the Chinese New Year's Eve dinner matters as well. Its usually always eight, a lucky number in Chinese culture as it sounds similar to the work that means "wealth," but it may be six or ten as well. A hot pot is often included as well to signify the coming together of family.
Turnip cakes, luo buo gao, are important, especially in Cantonese and Taiwanese celebrations. Turnip cakes are made with shredded radish and plain rice flour. They are cut into square-shaped pieces and pan-fried.
Sweet rice balls are consumed during the first and/or last day of Chinese New Year, depending on location. The dumpling process and the way they are consumed varies between Northern and Southern China.
Other sweets are popular during Chinese New Year as well - kumquat, longan, lotus seed, candy melon, and red melon seeds are just a few of the items you might find in stores.
This is just a sampling of various foods that may be served throughout the Lunar New Year period. If you're traveling to a destination with a large traditional Chinese population, look for these items and special holiday menus that might be available as well.
Have you ever celebrated Chinese New Year?
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Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.
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