Seasonal Lunar New Year Food Traditions

As those who celebrate it know, the lunar new year is a *big* holiday, the celebration of which continues for a few weeks (well, technically 15 days, but why limit oneself?) with family dinners and parties. Not to mention parades with plenty of firecrackers and other noise-makers (all the better to drive off bad luck and evil spirits). Gifts of cash are handed out in red envelopes, and various types of gambling (all symbolizing abundance and luck for the coming year) are called for at gatherings of family and friends.

And food. What's a holiday without its special foods? In the case of lunar new year, food isn't just a big part of gathering together and celebrating, it sets the stage for good luck in the new year.

Banquet-style feasts are popular (again, it's all about the abundance), but special foods are especially valued. As luck would have it, lunar new year foods tend towards the seasonal (and thus local) as well. I've gathered a few to look out for here.

  • 01 of 07

    Whole Greens for Longevity

    Sauteed Pea Greens. Photo © Molly Watson

    Greens, cooked whole, symbolize longevity. Steaming or sauteeing are yummy ways to go about working whole (that is, uncut) leaves onto your table. If pea greens (pictured above) are already out about where you live, they are an excellent choice.

  • 02 of 07

    Long Noodles for Long Life

    Cutting Egg Noodles. Photo © Molly Watson

    Long, unbroken noodles symbolize long life, which is an image of luck and delicious in one yummy bite that I particularly adore. If you make them at home, you'll only be limited by the size of your cutting board.

  • 03 of 07

    Whole Fish for Abundance

    Coho a.k.a. Silver Salmon. Photo © Lucidio Studio Inc/Getty Images

    Whole fish with head (good beginning) and tail (good end) intact is extra lucky since the Chinese word for fish sounds a lot like the word for abundance.

  • 04 of 07

    Whole Chickens for Completeness

    Roast Chicken. Photo © Tonic Photo Studios, LLC/Getty Images

    Entire chickens steamed or roasted and brought to the table in their complete form similarly symbolize abundance, as well as completion or wholeness in work and family.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Lobster for Bold Spirit

    Whole Cooked Lobster. Photo © Tetra Images - Jamie Grill/Getty Images

    Lobster, again, served whole to represent completeness and good fortune, is also known as the "dragon of the sea," so it represents strength, energy, and bold spirit. (Note that serving the lobster with a chicken or other poultry symbolizes the phoenix, a sign of strong marriage and family.)

  • 06 of 07

    Dumplings for Fortune

    Green Garlic Pork Dumplings. Photo © Molly Watson

    Various types of dumplings (filled with fortune; many of them together showing abundance) are traditional in different areas. Try these simple recipes to get started:

  • 07 of 07

    Citrus for Luck & Prosperity

    Satsuma Tangerines. Photo © mariannehope/Getty Images

    Most seasonal of all, is the tremendous good luck connected to citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit are considered lucky, because they are the color of gold. They are also in-season where they grow (the exact date of lunar new year moves around a fair amount, but it's in the late-January or February range) and bring a bright sweetness to the table, too. Some are extra lucky such as tangerines with their green leaves still attached bring good fortune with their leaves demonstrating longevity and their name sounding like luck, or pomelos, large citrus fruit that look like grapefruits, have a name that sounds like prosperity.

    Different cultures and families add their own traditions, of course, and special new year's soups, dumplings and cakes are centerpieces on many holiday tables.

    Along with parties and sweets and gifts of money and firecrackers, many cultures include a lunar new year tradition of intense housecleaning. Less fun, perhaps, but satisfying nonetheless. Check out How to Spring Clean Your Kitchen for food-specific tasks.