Celebrated by Asian communities across the globe, Chinese New Year is a highlight of the cultural calendar. Along with firecrackers, lion dances and dragon boat races, food plays a starring role in the festivities.
The traditional New Year’s Eve dinner is at the heart of these celebrations. To herald in the Lunar New Year, families gather to share age-old customs and symbolic dishes that represent good fortune, health, peace, happiness and longevity. Black moss is eaten to encourage abundant wealth, dried bean curd is said to provide prosperity and happiness, bamboo offers longevity and strength, and gingko nuts represent silver ingots.
To create the ultimate Chinese New Year feast, Asian Inspirations introduces a range of authentic dishes to share with family and friends. Each of these tempting suggestions has been selected for its symbolism, sense of history and traditional place on the New Year’s menu. With the right ingredients and expert advice from Asian Inspirations, you can recreate a genuine Chinese New Year experience at home. Here are the authentic CNY recipes, Enjoy!
Kick-start your authentic Chinese New Year banquet with these impressive entrees from Asian Inspirations, including handmade dumplings and a vibrant seafood salad.
Gold dumplings (jiaozi)
The kitchen is the epicenter of New Year’s Eve festivities. In the evening, families gather to make jiaozi, crescent-shaped that dumplings resemble gold bars and symbolise a plentiful and prosperous year ahead. As the term ‘jiao zi’ also refers to the hour of midnight, these steamed dumplings are served as the clock strikes 12, signifying a fresh start and a smooth transition into the New Year.
To create these delicious dumplings at home, begin by making a smooth dough from plain flour and warm water, then slicing and rolling the dough into thin rounds. A classic filling is prawn, pork mince, garlic chives and ginger, or for vegetarian dumplings opt for a mix of finely chopped mushroom, cabbage, celery and leek. To make a dipping sauce, combine soy sauce with rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, white sugar and a splash of chilli oil, striking a balance between salty, sour, sweet and spicy.
Chinese New Year salad (yee sang/yusheng)
A favourite among Chinese communities in Singapore and Malaysia, yee sang, or the Prosperity Toss, is traditionally enjoyed at the start of a New Year’s banquet. Each of the components in this colourful salad represents an element of wealth, happiness and abundance. Raw fish, a selection of pickled vegetables, and a tangy plum dressing are arranged on a platter, and guests gather together to mix the salad with their chopsticks. As they toss the ingredients high into the air, everyone utters auspicious phrases, such as “Abundance through the year” and “Good luck is approaching”. Legend has it that the higher the salad is tossed, the more good fortune it brings.
When preparing your yee sang, try a combination of thinly sliced raw salmon or ocean trout (ask your fishmonger for sashimi-grade fish), pickled carrot, ginger and daikon radish, cucumber, pomelo, spring onions, peanuts and crunchy fried wonton wrappers. If you’re feeling adventurous, add strips of jellyfish for added texture.
Did you know… The Chinese language features many similar-sounding words that have different meanings. For example, yee sang means both fish and abundance; fat choy is used to describe prosperity as well as a type of black moss. These word associations create symbolism in the classic New Year’s dishes.
For the main event, place a range of dishes in the centre of the table for all to share, such as health-giving Buddha’s delight and classic Cantonese steamed fish.
On New Year’s Day, the gods of heaven are said to return to earth, and because of this many people abstain from eating meat in order to promote longevity and happiness. A Buddhist tradition also suggests that no animal should be killed on the first day of the lunar year, so vegetarian dishes take center stage in Chinese New Year celebrations.
The aptly named Buddha’s delight is customarily served as the first dish on New Year’s Day. Even the most simple versions of this virtuous stir-fry contain 10-12 vegetable varieties. Ingredients are chosen for their symbolic nature, with typical additions including dried bean curd for wealth and happiness, black moss and gingko nuts for prosperity, and bamboo shoots for longevity and strength. Shiitake mushrooms, dried lily buds, carrot, cabbage and snow peas add substance, and the stir-fry is brought together with a sauce of rice wine, soy, sugar and sesame oil. Once you’ve soaked the dried ingredients for 30 minutes, this flavour-packed stir-fry comes together in no time.
Cantonese steamed fish
A must-have on any Chinese New Year menu, Cantonese steamed fish represents prosperity and abundance. Not only does the Chinese word for fish (yee) rhyme with abundance, serving a whole fish symbolises togetherness. While it may be tempting to eat the entire dish in one sitting, it is customary to save half the fish for the following day as a sign of transferring your abundance to the New Year.
Ginger and spring onion is a classic flavour combination for Cantonese steamed fish, enhanced with a light dressing of soy and sesame oil, and finished with a splash of sizzling-hot peanut oil. Fleshy fish, such as whole barramundi, snapper and coral trout, will work a treat.
Set yourself up for a sweet year ahead when you serve these signature Chinese New Year desserts, including glutinous rice dumplings and a sticky cake of dates and brown sugar.
Glutinous rice dumplings in sweet soup
While the Western New Year is over in a flash, Chinese New Year is celebrated over 15 days. The final day is the time for tang yuen, glutinous dumplings in a sweet soup. As they are huddled together in a bowl, the round shape and stickiness of these plump dumplings signifies family unity, and the sweetness of the soup promises a sweet life ahead.
The dumpling dough consists of glutinous rice flour, sugar and water, kneaded to a smooth consistency. If desired, you can fill the dumplings with red bean paste, ground black sesame seeds, or a mixture of white sesame, peanut and coconut. Made with rock sugar or palm sugar, the delicate, clear soup is gently infused with ginger and pandan leaves.
Chinese New Year sticky rice cake
Another authentic dessert is the Chinese New Year sticky rice cake. Throughout the festivities, these sugary, sticky cakes are given to friends and family to symbolise a rich, sweet life. Legend has it that the cakes are crafted to ensure a favourable report from the Kitchen God – the custom of feeding sticky cakes to the kitchen deity was said to ensure that his mouth was sweetened with good words.
Known as nian gao, the cake is made from glutinous rice flour, brown sugar and Chinese dates. The sticky batter is steamed to form a thin cake, which can then be sliced and pan-fried before serving.
Other symbolic ingredients
Did you know… Noodles are a symbol of longevity in Chinese culture, and therefore it is considered bad luck to cut the strands as this represents cutting short your life.
Did you know… The words for tangerine and orange sound like luck and wealth respectively, which is why these tangy fruits are commonly given out during Chinese New Year.
Local flavours: Chinese New Year around the world
Also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is celebrated over 15 days. New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for thoroughly cleansing the house, washing away ill fortune to make way for good luck. A reunion dinner is held in the evening, as families gather to celebrate and see in the New Year.
Malaysia & Singapore
The yee sang, or Prosperity Toss, is a popular Chinese New Year dish in Malaysia and Singapore. Families take a hands-on approach to its preparation, gathering to mix the platter of raw fish and pickled vegetables together, uttering auspicious phrases as they toss the ingredients high into the air. On New Year’s Day in Malaysia, people throw open their doors to welcome friends and family, regardless of race or religion.
Even though Chinese New Year is not recongised as a public holiday in Thailand, the country’s Chinese heritage has ensured that many of the traditional customs are still celebrated today, with parades, dragon dances and fireworks displays held across the nation.
Hong Kong celebrates Chinese New Year with a three-day holiday and unparalleled colour and energy. Expect impressive pyrotechnics displays, a vibrant night parade and soul-stirring ancient practices in the city’s myriad temples.
In the Chinatowns of Japan, Chinese New Year is marked with lantern displays, offerings to the gods and traditional drumming and lion dances.
Did you know… 2014 is the year of the horse.
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