Certain dishes are eaten during Chinese New Year due to their symbolic meaning.
1. Fish — an Increase in Prosperity
In Chinese, “鱼” (鱼 Yú /yoo/) sounds like “surplus”. Fish is a traditional Chinese New Year dish on the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner menu. The Chinese always like to have a surplus at the end of the year, because they think that if they manage to save something at the end of the year, they can earn more next year.
2. Whole Chicken — ‘Luck’ and ‘Wholeness’
Chicken is a homonym of Ji (吉, meaning “good luck” and “prosperity”). This is one of the things that makes it a popular dish at reunion dinners. The chicken is usually presented whole – including head and feet – to symbolize “unity” and “wholeness”, as well as a “beautiful beginning and end” of the year.
3. Chinese New Year Cake — a Higher Income or Position
Glutinous rice cake (年糕 Niángāo /nyen-gaoww/) is a lucky food eaten on Chinese New Year’s Eve. In Chinese, glutinous rice cake sounds like “higher every year”. In Chinese minds, this means that the higher your status, the more prosperous your business is, a general improvement in life.
4. Steamed Pork Belly with Taro — ‘Prosperity’
Steamed Pork Belly with Taro is a popular dish, tender pork slices meld with sweet, salty and tangy flavours, paired with soft and starchy taro slices. Pork represents “abundance”, “wealth”, “strength” and “well-being”. Steamed meat expresses the wish for a prosperous new year.
Shrimp is a favourite Spring Festival dish among Cantonese. Shrimp represents “lively”, but also “happiness” and “auspiciousness”, because shrimp in Cantonese, ha, sounds like laughter.
6. Vegetables—’Spring’, ‘Wealth’, and More
No New Year’s Eve dinner menu is complete without vegetables. Vegetables symbolize “spring”, “renewal”, “vitality”, “progress” and “wealth”. There are several traditional vegetables, each symbolizing something specific.
7. Fruit—Fullness and Wealth
Some fruits are eaten during Chinese New Year, such as tangerines, oranges and grapefruits. They were chosen because they are particularly round and “golden” in colour, symbolizing fullness and wealth, but more obviously because of the auspicious sound they bring when spoken.