12 Lucky Chinese New Year Food 2024 with Symbols

Written by Sally Guo Updated Apr. 8, 2021

Chinese people eat foods with the symbols of good luck, prosperity, and happiness during the Chinese New Year.  The lunar New Year 2024 is coming, try these traditional dishes with auspicious meanings and have good fortune in the new year.

1. Fish - Fortune and Abundance

Steamed Fish
 

Steamed Fish

Fish is one of the main dishes commonly eaten for New Year's dinner throughout the whole country.  The Chinese word"fish" sounds like the word for "yu", which means surplus and abundance. So eating fish stands for: “always have more than you wish”.

It is custom that the fish is served with the head and tail intact to ensure a good start and finish and to avoid bad luck.  The general way to cook fish is to either steam or braise it.

2. Chicken - a Symbol of Good Luck

Cantonese Poached Chicken
 

Cantonese Poached Chicken

Chicken is an indispensable dish on the table during the Spring Festival because the pronunciation of “chicken” in Chinese is the same as that of “Ji” (which means "good luck" and "prosperity"). So Chinese people eat chicken in the hope of bringing good luck and auspices for the next year.

A whole chicken is served in some places with the meaning of happiness and reunion. Before the New Year’s Eve dinner, the Cantonese Hakkas worship gods and their ancestors with a free-ranging chicken to wish for a burgeoning and kicking life in the new year.

Chicken dishes for family reunion dinner including:

3. Pork: a Symbol of Prosperous Life

Shanghai-style Braised Pork Belly
 

Shanghai-style Braised Pork Belly

In rural areas of China, it is a tradition to kill a domestic pig for the Spring Festival, to comfort a year’s hard work. People regard eating pork at family reunion dinners as a symbol of a rich life.

Different regions with different cooking methods:

4. Shrimp: Happiness

Shrimp Meat with Longjing
 

Shrimp Meat with Longjing Tea

Your mouth will look like you are saying “hahaha” when saying shrimp, “xiā 虾” in Chinese. People eat shrimp at this most important dinner to wish for a happy life for the coming new year.

The cooking method in different regions in China:

5. Chinese New Year Dumplings - Better Changes

Dumplings
 

Dumplings

Dumpling is a must-eat dish in Northern China, where eating dumplings means life will be better.  Because the shape of the dumpling is like a gold ingot, eating dumplings on New Year’s Eve also has the meaning of “ushering in wealth and prosperity”.

What’s interesting is that people who eat the dumplings occasionally stuffed with special materials like a coin, a candy, a peanut, or a red date, will have the best luck in the New Year.

Dumpling Stuffings and its Meaning

6. Tang Yuan-Family Reunion

Tang Yuan- sweet soup with balls- is a symbol of family reunion in Chinese culture.  It is a tradition for people in the south of China to eat Tang Yuan on New Year’s Eve. Eating Tang Yuan symbolizes a sweet and happy life.    

7. Spring Rolls

Spring Rolls
 

Spring Rolls

Spring rolls- Chun Juan or Chun Bing in Chinese- are golden-fried pastries. 

The name is intrinsically linked to the Spring Festival. The Chinese have had the custom of having spring rolls since ancient times, to mark the end of winter and to welcome a lively spring.

8. Celery

The Chinese word for"celery" is pronounced the same as hardworking.  Eating celery is always with the hope of hard work and great achievements. 

 Parents often want their kids to eat some celery in the hope that they will work hard and become better in study or work. 

9. Lettuce

The word "lettuce" sounds similar to “make fortune” in Cantonese. Lettuce is often cooked with oyster sauce and sprinkled with some fried mashed garlic, a dish meaning “gold bars make fortune.
10.  Garlic chives

Eating Garlic chives means long and everlasting in Chinese. So eating garlic chives at Chinese New Year means: “good days will be long-lasting”.

10. New Year Cake

New Year cake or rice cake, sounds like “getting higher year by year” in Chinese. The higher you are, the more prosperous your business is. Hence the Year Cake symbolizes achieving new heights in the coming year.

11. Longevity Noodles 

Longevity noodles are a lucky dish on birthdays and other celebratory occasions such as the Chinese New Year. Eating longevity noodles on one’s birthday or on the Chinese New Year is a tradition dating back over 1,000 years ago. Because they are long and continuous noodles represent long life. Eating longevity noodles symbolizes that everything is going to be smooth in the new year.

12. Zongzi

It is a long tradition that Chinese people eat Zongzi at the Dragon Boat Festival. However,  in southern China, especially the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, there is a custom of eating zongzi during the Spring Festival.

In southern dialects, “zong” is pronounced as "flourishing". Zongzi is considered a lucky food representing prosperity and wealth. 

What Not to Eat on Chinese New Year

On New Year's Eve family dinner, remember not to serve these dishes that are considered "inauspicious".  Eating these dishes is thought to bring bad luck to the new year. 

Porridge

People should not eat porridge on the first day of the lunar new year. The ancient Chinese believed that porridge was associated with being thin and poor. Therefore, if one ate porridge on the first day of the lunar new year, it was believed that the whole year would be difficult and lacking in prosperity. If one started the year with porridge, they would not have a chance to enjoy a rich life for the rest of the year. In the past, only poor families would eat porridge as a staple food.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin sounds like the word "difficult" in Chinese, which represents the difficulties and hardships of life. In ancient times, it was often seen on funeral tables, representing the sadness and grief of the departed loved ones.

Winter Melon

Similarly, winter melon is white and does not fit in with the traditional red and festive colors of the New Year. So eating winter melon during the New Year is believed to be unlucky. 

Sour cabbage

Sour cabbage is a type of pickled vegetable that is considered unlucky because of its sour taste and association with poverty. Although it is famous in Northeastern China, it is not served during the Lunar New Year's Eve dinner, and even dumplings with sour cabbage filling are not seen.

Tofu/Mapo tofu

Mapo tofu is a popular home-style dish in China due to its delicious taste and affordability. However, it is not suitable for the Chinese New Year because tofu is white and does not match the festive red color. In many places, tofu is associated with funerals, and it is not appropriate for an important festival like Chinese New Year.

Lotus Roots

Lotus roots are nutritious and tasty, but they have a negative connotation because they have many holes, which ancient people believed would cause financial leakage. Therefore, it is not served during the New Year feast.

Eggs

You should not eat eggs during the Spring Festival,  because they are associated with being "worthless" or having no value. 

Squid

Eating squid is considered unlucky because "stir-fried squid" sounds similar to "getting fired" in Chinese, and it is therefore not served during the New Year feast.

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