Chinese New Year 2023: traditional food ideas, what foods are eaten to greet Year of the Rabbit - lucky traditions

Common foods can take on new - and nefarious - meanings during the New Year celebrations

This weekend sees the arrival of the Lunar New Year, when millions of people around the globe from China and other Asian nations will welcome in the Year of the Rabbit.

It’s a holiday loaded with symbolism and meaning, and includes a wide variety of food to go along with the numerous distinctive Lunar New Year customs.

This can be confusing to many people not familiar with the celebration, and even a seemingly harmless food item could be taken with offence if proffered on Chinese New Year.

Oftentimes, this is because in Cantonese, the word for a food item could be the same or similar to something more ominous. Likewise, foods that share a similar sounding name with more pleasing concepts are more widely consumed.

So which foods are sure to bring joy to you and your guests on the holiday, and which should be avoided entirely? Here is everything you need to know.

Which foods are traditional on Chinese New Year?

Residents dine on a feast to celebrate Chinese New Year (Photo: China Photos/Getty Images)Residents dine on a feast to celebrate Chinese New Year (Photo: China Photos/Getty Images)
Residents dine on a feast to celebrate Chinese New Year (Photo: China Photos/Getty Images)

The traditional Asian cuisine served on Chinese New Year comes in a variety of shapes and flavours, and many of the meals have symbolic meanings, folklore, and superstitions attached to them. Every Lunar New Year, attracting good luck and avoiding ill luck for the year ahead is a central subject, and certain foods are thought to bring with them good fortunes for those who consume them.

Not only can dumplings be filled with an endless variety of ingredients, they are considered to be associated with money and to bring success and luck, while on New Year’s Day, people eat long noodles in several Asian nations in an effort to live longer (the longer the noodles you eat, the longer you’ll live).

The noodles can reach a length of two feet and are served uncut, but you should avoid breaking the noodle as you move it from your plate to your mouth.

The spherical form of sticky rice balls is thought to represent family harmony (they can be made with either sweet or savoury filling ingredients), and fish, especially when served whole, is thought to symbolise wholeness, abundance, and wealth for the upcoming year.

What food could I give as a gift?

People in China love to give food as gifts, so an ideal present would be a lovely food hamper. Good items to include in the hamper could be non-perishable items such as crackers, crisps, chocolate, biscuits, and dried fruit.

Fruit baskets are popular gifts in Chinese culture. Giving a box of oranges or a box of apples is particularly recommended because apples and oranges respectively symbolise safety and fortune (tangerines especially are considered lucky, because the Cantonese term for tangerine is similar to the word for “wealth”).

Oranges, pomelos and kumquats are other common fruits said to be lucky due to their gold colour. But while giving fruit is a good gift, you should avoid pears - the Chinese word for pears sounds the same as the word for “leaving” or “parting”.

And of course, booze is very well received at Chinese New Year - if the recipient is a drinker. Baijiu, a clear spirit distilled from sorghum, wheat, rice or corn, is the national drink of China and a popular choice during new year’s celebrations. It also makes it a great choice as a gift if you don’t know what your host’s favourite drink is.

Related topics: