Must-eat food on Chinese Lunar New Year’s Eve

If Spanish eats twelve grapes on new year’s eve to wish the best of luck; Japanese eats soba to wish everything goes well in the new year, then how about Chinese New Year?

Though nowadays Chinese has a day off on the 1st of January, China might be the only country do not really celebrate the 31st of December, that might be the reason you can only watch the fireworks at Hong Kong instead of any major cities in mainland China.


Chinese still regards the Lunar New Year as the big thing, the new year’s day might be only one day, but in China, from the preparation to the Lantern festival, we call this period of time ‘Spring Festival’ which might last a month long.

While during the Spring Festival, the most important thing will be food, there is an idiom in China which mean ‘people regard food as their heaven’ (Min Yi Shi Wei Tian). Whereas, what kind of ‘must eat’ traditional food will Chinese eat on the New Year’s Eve? To be honest, the answer depends on…


If you already saw my post ‘There is no such thing called ‘Chinese food’’, you might able to understand, the so-called ‘must eat’ really does not exist, but generally speaking, certain dishes will be served widely, here are some dishes we will eat in Eastern China which above the Yangtze River.



Generally speaking, people who live in provinces above the Yangtze River eats dumplings instead of glutinous rice balls. Accordingly, the shape of dumplings looks like the old Chinese money gold ingot.

Normally, families will make their own dumplings on the New Year’s Eve day. When I was young, the older always put coins inside of the certain dumplings, on one hand, it is believed the one who eats the dumplings with the coins will get lucky in the oncoming year; on the other hand, I bet this is a method to encourage kids eating food.


Niangao (Glutinous Rice Cake)

Though we do not eat glutinous rice balls on New Year’s Eve, glutinous rice cake will be served during the dinner. It was normally made in the shape of cube or round, whereas, the fish shape ‘niangao’ seems more popular to give to relatives or friends as presents.

The reason to eat ‘niangao’ is the fortunate meaning of the name, ‘nian’ means ‘year’, which share the same pronunciation with the Chinese word ‘sticky’; ‘gao’ means cake, while in Mandarin, the sounds of the words ‘taller’ or ‘higher’ also is ‘gao’. So as matter of fact,  ‘niangao’ is ‘sticky cake’, which has the symbolism of raising someone taller in the coming year.


Whole Chicken

Meat means the quality of the life in China, in the past, a lot of Chinese families only able to eat meat when the Lunar New Year comes, so meat becomes the essential meal for the New Year’s Eve dinner.

Though nowadays meat is quite common for the Chinese daily meal, people still keep the tradition to have several meat dishes on the table. The most popular meat dish in my place is whole chicken. Unlike here in the UK, roast chickens sold in the supermarket without the head, wings or feet, Chinese prefer to have the whole chickens. In addition, pork and donkey meat



As my hometown is a coastal city, so seafood will be definitely on the list, though winter is not a good season for eating seasonal seafood. Prawns or more precisely, Chinese white shrimps will be served, of course, with the heads and tails.

There are always some meanings of eating a certain food, the reason we eat prawns is whiling cooking them, they will turn red, so this means you will get luck in the oncoming year, as red normally being regarded as the lucky colour in China.



A lot of my foreign friends’ complaint that tofu is tasteless, that is supposed to be and that is also why we eat tofu. Plain steaming tofu without any sauce indicates there is no trouble, gossipy or lawsuit around.


Whole Fish

The last dish for the dinner will be the whole fish, not only for New Year’s Eve but also works on all kind of dinner parties or feasts. Fish in Chinese share the same pronunciation with another word imply ‘may you always have more than you need’.

While eating the fish on New Year’s Eve, you cannot turn the fish when you saw the fish bones, just simply move them then eat the other side.


As the Chinese Lunar New Year is the most important day for Chinese, the New Year’s Eve lunch or dinner could be the most significant meal of the whole year, though families might not rich, they will try to get the best for this meal.

If you have any chance to spend New Year’s Eve in a Chinese family, there will be more things you will learn and see. 

Here is the documentary about how Chinese from different parts of China preparing their New Year’s Eve meal, unfortunately, they do not have English subtitle…May you enjoy your Chinese Lunar New Year!


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