Certain dishes are eaten during the Chinese New Year for their symbolic meaning. Lucky food is served during the 16-day festival season, especially New Year's Eve, which is believed to bring good luck for the coming year. The auspicious symbolism of these foods is based on their pronunciations or appearance.
1. Fish 鱼
In Chinese, "fish" sounds like 'surplus'. Chinese people always like to have a surplus at the end of the year, because they think if they have managed to save something at the end of the year, then they can make more in the next year.
Lucky Sayings for Eating Fish
年年有余 (Niánnián yǒu yú): May you always have more than you need!
鱼跃龙门 (Yú yuè lóngmén): Success in your exam! ('A fish leaping over the dragon gate' implies successfully passing a competitive examination.)
2. Chinese Dumplings 饺子
With a history of more than 1,800 years, dumplings are a classic Chinese food, and a traditional dish eaten on Chinese New Year's Eve, widely popular in China, especially in North China.
Lucky Saying for Eating Dumplings
招财进宝 (Zhāo cái jìn bǎo): 'Bringing in wealth and treasure' — a felicitous wish for making money and amassing a fortune.
3. Spring Rolls 春卷
Spring rolls get their name because they are traditionally eaten during the Spring Festival.
Lucky Saying for Eating Spring Rolls
黄金万两 (huáng jīn wàn liǎng): 'A ton of gold' (because fried spring rolls look like gold bars) — a wish for prosperity.
4. Glutinous Rice Cake 年糕
In Chinese, niangao sounds like it means "'getting higher year on year"'. In Chinese people's minds, this means the higher you are the more prosperous your business is a general improvement in life. The main ingredients of niangao are sticky rice, sugar, chestnuts, Chinese dates and lotus leaves.
Lucky Saying for Eating Niangao
年年高 (niánnián gāo): 'Getting higher year-after-year by year', can imply children's height, rise in business success, better grades in study, promotions at work, etc.
5. Sweet Rice Balls 汤圆
Tangyuan is the main food for China's Lantern Festival, however, in south China, people eat them throughout the Spring Festival. The pronunciation and round shape of tangyuan are associated with reunion and being together. That's why they are favored by the Chinese during the New Year celebrations.
Lucky Sayings for Eating Tangyuan
团团圆圆 (Tuántuán yuányuán): Happy (family) reunion!
6. Longevity Noodles 长寿面
Longevity noodles unsurprisingly symbolize a wish for longevity. They are longer than normal noodles and uncut, either fried and served on a plate, or boiled and served in a bowl with their broth.
7. Good Fortune Fruit 吉祥果
Certain fruits are eaten during the Chinese New Year period, such as tangerines and oranges, and pomeloes. They are selected as they are particularly round and "golden" in color, symbolizing fullness and wealth, but more obviously for the lucky sound they bring when spoken.
Eating and displaying tangerines and oranges is believed to bring good luck and fortune due to their pronunciation, and even writing. The Chinese for orange (and tangerine) is 橙 (chéng), which sounds the same as the Chinese for 'success' (成). One of the ways of writing tangerine (桔 jú) contains the Chinese character for luck (吉 jí).
Eating pomeloes/shaddocks is thought to bring continuous prosperity. The more you eat, the more wealth it will bring, as the traditional saying goes. The Chinese for pomelo (柚 yòu) sounds like 'to have' (有 yǒu), except for the tone, and exactly like 'again' (又 yòu).
8. Sweets 甜食
People often serve sweets, like cakes, candies, jelly and melon seeds in a traditional plate (八宝盒, bā bǎo hé), which has several partitions inside.