The Year of the Dog has brought us Madonna, Michael Jackson, Winston Churchill, and Golda Meir…what could the year 4716 have in store? As the Chinese lunar calendar flips to a new page on February 16, it’s time to kick off a two-week celebration of leaving bad luck behind and moving onward and upward in health and wealth.
These global festivities are filled with symbolic lucky foods to ensure that fortune will favor you in the year ahead — and luckily, they’re all delicious! In honor of the most auspicious number in Chinese culture, here are 8 must-have foods to kick off the Year of the Dog:
Chinese dumplings are seen as a lucky charm to usher in a prosperous new year. The word jiaozi sounds like the word for ancient Chinese currency, thought to be the first paper money in history. And these crimped dumplings are said to resemble yuanbao, an ornate, highly valuable gold bar. Assembling and steaming jiaozi is a family event, complete with handed-down recipes and time-honored techniques. Many families even hide a coin in the dumpling filling to surprise one lucky relative! Some believe that the more dumplings you eat, the more money you’ll make in the new year, and to that we say: challenge accepted.
Spring rolls: chun juan
The delightful dim sum we know as spring rolls actually take their name from the Chinese New Year celebrations, which are also known as the Spring Festival. Like jiaozi, they are associated with prosperity because of their resemblance to gold bars. Sometimes served in a do-it-yourself assembly format and sometimes fried to a beguiling crisp, spring rolls are a truly irresistible way to ensure a wealthy new year.
Red dates a.k.a. jujubes
These candied fruits are a symbol of wealth and fertility, and red is a festive and lucky color during the Spring Festival. Red dates are commonly added to New Year desserts, steeped in tea, or enjoyed as a sweet snack.
Fish and Meat: dayu darou
As the centerpiece of a once-a-year feast is an impressive meat or fish dish called “dayu darou” — which translates to “big fish and big meat”! Everyday Chinese cuisine has historically been dominated by starches and vegetables because proteins were hard to come by, so serving this main course for Chinese New Year is an indication of a very special occasion. If you serve a whole fish, don’t forget to face the fish head in the direction of the eldest or most distinguished guest, who will enjoy the first serving as a sign of respect before other diners dig in.
Chinese New Year always falls in January or February, when winter citrus fruits are flavorful and plentiful. The Chinese words for orange and tangerine resemble the words for luck and success, so they’re often given as a gift or used for a decorative display during the Spring Festival, bringing prosperity into the home.
Long-life noodles: changshou mian
Not just any noodles — the longest you can find! These seemingly endless noodles are longer than the everyday staple (sometimes as long as two feet!) and represent longevity. Just be sure you don’t cut or break them! Because they bring good luck for a long life ahead, long-life noodles are also traditionally slurped on birthdays.
Mustard greens: chang nian cai
Their name translates to “perennial vegetables,” so these mustard greens are the perfect symbol for longevity. Plus, their vibrant hue symbolizes — you guessed it — the color of money, making these veggies twice as lucky!
Sticky rice cake: nian gao
Nian gao, which translates to “New Year cake,” sounds a lot like a Chinese phrase meaning “higher year,” so it has come to symbolize advancement, progression, and even getting taller in the year ahead! This sticky, steamed dessert is made of glutinous rice, just like Japanese mochi, and recipes vary widely from region to region. Sticky rice cakes might be sweet or savory, but brown sugar and almond extract are especially common flavors in this iconic New Year’s dessert.
Wishing everyone luck and prosperity in the New Year!
The Lunar New Year is the biggest event of the year in China and across the U.S. in Chinese-American enclaves like San Francisco and New York City. But even if you didn’t grow up with Spring Festival traditions, you can still enjoy the universal thrills of a great party! We love the focus on food and family, and taking a moment to honor the past while looking forward to the future. Like Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day, it’s a vibrant, cross-cultural celebration all Americans can enjoy. Besides, we think there’s no such thing as too many holidays. More dumplings for everyone!