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the chinese new year feast

Chinese New Year is celebrated in the same fashion as Christmas and Thanksgiving in Canada.

Chinese New Year 'Long Life Noodles'

Families gather together on New Year's Eve for a Reunion Dinner to give thanks and to bring well wishes and prosperity for the New Year. This New Year's Eve feast is the most celebrated of the year. Symbolic dishes with auspicious meaning are lovingly prepared and served.

According to Dictionary.com, the term 'auspicious' is defined as promising success, favorable, prosperous, and fortunate.

Auspicious dishes help bring in good health, prosperity, happiness and well wishes for the New Year. The names of these dishes in Chinese sound like the Chinese New Year phrases associated with success, good fortune, good health and long life.

Each family from different regions of China and Asia may prepare different dishes, but the meaning is still the same: to gather around and usher the New Year with success in every aspect of life.

Chicken is for 'good health'. The whole chicken is simply steamed or poached. It means good health. Some prefer the chicken to include the head and the tail, which represents a good life from the beginning to the end.

Fish is for 'abudndance'. In Chinese, the word 'abundance' also sounds like the word 'fish'. The entire fish – from head to tail – is also preferred, to represent the completeness of a life in abundance.

Shrimp is for 'happiness and joy'. In Cantonese, shrimp is pronounced 'Ha'.

Lettuce is for 'rising fortune'. Used in stir-fries or in lettuce wraps.

Braised Dried Oysters and Black Moss (Fat Choy) are for 'happy events and prosperity'.

Uncut noodles are for 'long life'.

Sweet and Sour Pork is for 'grandchildren'. The word 'sour' sounds like 'grandchildren' in Cantonese. The dish is a blessing for more grandchildren in the New Year.

Nian Gao Cake is for 'good luck'. It also means 'to raise yourself to a higher (or taller) state in rank, professionally or prosperity' and 'rising abundance'. It is a snack served for visiting guests. Often sliced and pan-fried with a light coating of beaten egg, it provides a slightly sweet and sticky treat with tea. The sweetness implies the 'sweet, rich life'.

The Buddha's Feast (Jai) on Chinese New Year's Day. This vegetarian dish is served on the first day of the New Year. Traditionally, it is comprised of eighteen ingredients. Some ingredients include napa cabbage, bean thread noodles / vermicelli, shitake mushrooms, ginger, dried lily buds, dried bean curd, baby corn and snow peas. Buddhist tradition dictates that no animal or fish should be killed on the first day of the New Year. This dish also helps cleanse the body, following the previous evening's luxurious New Year's Eve meal.

Do not bring or serve for Chinese New Year's celebrations:

  • squid – the name itself in Chinese means 'to be fired' and is not lucky
  • tofu – it is the colour white and white is a funeral colour

See Year of the Dragon 2013, Chinese New Year Customs and Superstitions and Fun Facts for Chinese New Year for more about Chinese New Year with SayItCanada.

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year!


Michelle Mah is a Chinese-Canadian mother born in Vancouver, Canada. Once a System Analyst for a radiology software firm in Richmond, BC, she married a family physician. Together they raise their family in rural 100 Mile House, BC.

Michelle Mah
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Web page content last updated Friday, April 19, 2013

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