THIS year’s Lunar New Year falls on Friday, February 16, prompting an auspicious 15-day celebration of bold red lanterns, equally bold red door decorations, crackling firecrackers, gold inscribed money envelopes, and of course, food — lots of food.
The Lunar New Year continues for many to be all about honoring ancestors, spending time with family, getting rid of any bad luck from the past year, and making way for new good luck and fortune.
While the Lunar New Year is celebrated by several countries throughout Asia, many Filipinos have come to celebrate the holiday the Chinese way. In Manila’s Ongpin Street — the world’s oldest Chinatown established in 1594 — the Lunar New Year is welcomed with the usual lion and dragon dances, drums, and again food which families gather around for on the eve of the holiday and throughout.
Here are some essential Lunar New Year foods to help you and your family eat towards a year of da ji da li (great luck and great fortune).
Symbolizing wishes for a long, happy, and healthy life, longevity noodles are popular at celebrations like birthdays, newborn birthdays, weddings, and the Lunar New Year.
Because the length of the noodle refers to long life, they aren’t meant to be broken as doing so represents the risk of shortening one’s lifespan.
How the noodles are prepared varies. Some prefer noodles like the thin, long, and salty miswa noodles in soup, while others may prefer yi mien noodles fried and mixed with some vegetables.
Spring rolls are especially popular during the Lunar New Year and are named after the holiday’s other name, the Spring Festival.
Inside the spring roll wrappers made of water and wheat flour are often shredded carrots, cabbage, bean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, and pork which vegetarians can opt out of including. The rolls are then fried, taking on a golden brown color meant to resemble gold bars and welcome in wealth and prosperity.
Stuffing dumpling wrappers with passed down jiaozi xian (filling) recipes is a tradition for many Chinese families and dates back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties, making it a symbol of family unity.
Shaped like the sycee, which was a form of currency in China until the 20th century, dumplings are also another dish that symbolize wealth and prosperity.
Translated to English, nian gao means “year higher” and symbolizes the idea of achieving something greater each year whether it be in health, in one’s career, monetary wealth, grades, or even child’s height.
In the Philippines where it is called tikoy, the steamed cake can be eaten as is, but is commonly sliced, dipped in egg, and pan-fried. Other variations put the cake between slices of sweet potato or taro, dipped in batter, and deep-fried.
Good fortune fruits
Mandarins, oranges, pomelos, kumquats, tangerines, grapefruits and other hardy winter citrus fruits are bound to be found scattered around homes, temples, and dinner tables during the Lunar New Year holiday.
The luck of the fruits lies in their roundness and bright gold-like color. The Chinese words for wealth and luck also sound similar to words for tangerine and orange.
Ba bao fan
Also known as eight-treasure rice pudding, the often colorful and beautifully designed dessert is basically sticky glutinous rice, studded with a combination of eight ingredients often including dates, dried apricots, lotus seeds, jujubes, dried plums, red bean paste, goji berries, and other sweet ornaments often used in Chinese medicine.
The mosaic-like dessert represents wealth or prosperity in that the number eight — pronounced “ba” — sounds like “fa” which means prosperity.
Any impressive Lunar New Year meal will include a whole fish which if eaten, is said to welcome in a year of excess or abundance — the word for fish in any Chinese dialect sounds similar to the Chinese word “yu” which generally means surplus.
The fish can either be steamed with ingredients like ginger, cilantro, and green onions; or deep-fried like the dramatic “squirrel fish.”
Tang yuan (sweet rice balls)
Depending on the region, these glutinous sweet rice balls are either eaten throughout the Lunar New Year period, or at the end of the 15-day celebration to welcome the beginning of the Lantern Festival.
A symbol of togetherness and reuniting with family, the balls are often served in sweet syrup and can be filled with sweet fillings like red bean paste, sweet peanut paste, and black sesame paste.