Lunar new year is a festival celebrated all around the world to celebrate the new year according to the lunisolar calendar. The festival is mainly celebrated in Southeast Asian cultures and it is a time when people reunite with their family, enjoy food and relax before the beginning of a new season. The date of the new year depends on the phase of the moon and this year it is being celebrated on the 22nd of January. According to tradition, the year is named after one of the 12 zodiac animals which come from a long history of Chinese folklore. This year is the year of the rabbit. Alongside the other traditions of the festival, the food that is served is symbolic and often relates to ideas such as good luck and bringing in a good start to the year. Below I have shared some recipes for food that are eaten during Lunar New Year. While a lot of the food eaten is similar there are variances among different regions and countries which celebrate Lunar New Year such as China, Malaysia, and South Korea.
In China, one of the most common foods that are eaten on Chinese New Year is dumplings. These are said to look like gold ingots and therefore the more that you eat, the more money you will have in the new year. This delicious recipe contains pork or beef but I have also found a vegan alternative which can be found here. While both recipes contain instructions to make your own dumpling skins, an easier alternative could be to visit a local Asian supermarket and buy premade skins. Dumplings are such a fun group activity because of the folding and I find making them very therapeutic. You can freeze a large batch to eat at a later date which is ideal when the suggested portion often feeds a large group of people.
Another recipe that is popularly eaten in China is long noodles. These are meant to represent a long life and the method of eating them is to try and see how much you can eat without breaking the noodle. The longer you do this, the longer you will live. According to this recipe, the noodles are best cooked in small batches in order so they are not tasteless. Whilst recipes for dumplings and spring rolls can take a long time to cook due to the process of wrapping them, these noodles are perfect for celebrating Lunar New Year if you cannot dedicate a long time to cooking as they take 20 minutes to prepare in total. This dish can easily be made vegetarian by replacing the oyster sauce with a vegetarian version.
It is common in China to cook a whole fish to celebrate the coming of the new year. The word abundance in Mandarin has the same pronunciation as the word ‘fish’. Serving the whole fish represents having abundance and good luck from the beginning of the year to the end. Another meaning can be to finish what you have started. Chinese Malaysians follow the tradition where you leave the head and the tail behind. This is meant to be hopeful that the year will finish and end with an abundance left over. It is important that the fish is not turned over as if this happens it can symbolise overturning your good luck for the new year. Here is a recipe for a whole steamed fish.
One dish that is prepared in Malaysia for Lunar New Year is Yee Sang (Prosperity Toss Salad) . The recipe is significant because its ingredients are chosen for their names which sound similar to words meaning abundance. For example, one ingredient often used is pomelo or lime which sounds like the word for good luck. The most fun part of this tradition is the fact that everyone participates in tossing the salad. As this happens everyone gets to shout out their wishes for the new year. The higher the dish is tossed shows. how high you will progress in the new year.
In South Korea, one of the dishes made most frequently for the new year is tteokguk which is rice cake soup. The rice cake in the recipe is white and is cut into thin oval shapes which symbolise a bright and good new year. As the way that Korean age is measured is by the new year and everyone ages at the same time, according to tradition a person could not get older until they had eaten a bowl of tteokguk. The broth for the soup is traditionally made with beef broth such as the recipe I have used here. However, to make this vegan, you could replace the broth with a vegetable one which I am sure would taste just as delicious.
To learn more about the symbolism of Lunar New Year dishes you can watch this video where I sourced my information for this article.
Image credits: Angela Roma on Pexels