Lunar New Year falls on February 1 this year and is celebrated by millions of people around the world. Traditionally, people return to their hometowns for 15 days to spend time with family, receive red envelopes filled with money, and eat together. The celebration begins on New Year's Eve, with families gathering for a reunion dinner to eat auspicious foods in the hope of bringing good fortune and starting the new year off right. This year is the Year of the Tiger, and since food is one of the most important parts of the festivities, we’ve rounded up 10 lucky Lunar New Year foods that will help you start off on the right foot. .
Poon choi, which translates to “wealthy bowl,” is a unique dish that is only seen during big celebrations and the Lunar New Year holiday. The dish symbolizes abundance in the coming year and is extremely time-consuming to make. Every item is prepared separately and layered one by one. Although there are no set ingredients, a typical poon choi can have 15 plus ingredients depending on how lavish it is. You can typically expect abalone, barbecue pork, sea cucumber, lamb, beef, pigskin, bean curd, taro, turnip, and napa cabbage, among others, to be included. Because of the work that must be put into it, all poon choi must be preordered at least a few days in advance. Depending on the size, prices in LA start at $218-$338.
Here’s some suggestions on where you can get poon choi:
Vietnamese banh tet is usually first given as an offering to ancestors and then eaten afterward during the new year celebration. It’s usually made in the shape of a cylinder and stuffed with glutinous rice, pork fat, mung bean seasoned with shallots and black pepper. They are then rolled into banana leaves and boiled for many hours. After cooking, the leaves are taken off and the rice cake is sliced into wheel shapes.
Banh tet is served with pickled scallions, pickled vegetables, and dipped in fish sauce. Some families eat it steamed and others like it fried. Although you can buy banh tet at markets and Vietnamese sandwich shops, some mom-and-pop restaurants like Sau Can Tho make their own from scratch. However, the true meaning behind this dish is to promote family bonding, since making it is such a time-consuming family affair.
Find it here, or at your local Vietnamese market or shop:
During Chinese New Year, long noodles are eaten all over the country. Known as “longevity noodles,” which are also eaten at birthday celebrations, these noodles are never cut or broken by the cook—no matter how long they are. The noodle’s length is symbolic of the diner’s long life and is considered a lucky New Year’s food, especially in Northern China.
New Year’s noodles can be fried or boiled. You can order noodles from any restaurant but going to an authentic Chinese restaurant means that your noodles will not be cut—and therefore luckier!
Here are some of our suggestions of where to go:
Dumplings are considered a lucky food for Lunar New Year, especially in Northern China. The dumplings are made to look like ancient Chinese silver ingots representing wealth and prosperity. Legend has it that the more dumplings you eat during New Year celebrations, the more money you can make that year.
The dumplings can be boiled, steamed, fried, etc., as long as they are in the shape of an ingot. We suggest getting the following for tasty dumplings:
Fo tiao qiang, which literally translates to “Buddha jumps over the wall,” is a traditional and expensive stew from China’s Fujian province. The thick soup dates back to the Qing Dynasty. According to legend, the dish was so good that even a vegetarian monk would jump over a temple’s walls just to taste it.
The dish is a delicacy made up of pricey ingredients and is high in nutrients and collagen. It takes up to two days to make, with many additional hours in preparation time. Typically, the soup has dried abalone, dried scallop, dried shiitake mushrooms, dried mushrooms, scallops, fish maw, pork tendon, taro, quail eggs, bamboo shoots, ginseng, sea cucumber, red dates, Chinese wolfberry, Jinhua ham, and beef shank.
Luckily for us in Los Angeles, Jiang Nan Spring in Alhambra serves the dish for New Year but requires diners to bring in their own vessel for the soup. Make sure to call ahead to pre order. For those who opt for simplicity, local Costco locations and 99 Ranch Markets also sell frozen to-go variations of Buddha Jumps Over the Wall for purchase. Microwave or steam at home.
Glutinous rice balls are usually eaten on the last day of Lunar New Year celebrations, which is known as the Lantern Festival. They are sweet mochi rice balls whose round shape symbolizes togetherness. Tangtuan can have black sesame, red bean, ground peanuts, or other fillings. The pronunciation of tangtuan is very similar to a Chinese phrase meaning “being together and gathering with your family.” The Vietnamese version of the dish is called chè trôi nước and is usually made with mung bean paste and sweet ginger syrup, topped with coconut cream and lightly toasted sesame seeds.
You can find them at your local Asian supermarket frozen aisle or at these restaurants:
Fa gao, or fortune cake, is a Chinese cupcake-like pastry. The top of the cake is split into multiple segments. The cakes are dense and gummy, as they are made mainly of rice flour. Known as fa gao in Chinese, “fa” means both “raised” and “prosperity (leavened),” so fa gao means both “fortune cake” and “raised (leavened) cake.” These cakes are steamed and eaten to signify wealth in the New Year.
Here is where to get fa gao:
Turnip cakes are staples in dim sum, but they are also a lucky Lunar New Year food. During the celebration, bakeries and restaurants make larger versions than what’s available at dim sum parlors. Although it is a Cantonese food, the Taiwanese and Fujianese also eat this during the New Year, since the pronunciation for radish cake, chai tow kway, is a homonym for good fortune. The cakes can be eaten steamed or fried.
You can find turnip cake at any dim sum restaurant or at these locations:
Glutinous rice cake, aka nian gao, is a lucky food that cannot be missed. In Chinese, glutinous rice cake sounds like it means "getting higher year-on-by-year." To Chinese people, this means that the higher you are, the more prosperous your business. The main ingredients of nian gao are sticky rice, sugar, chestnuts, Chinese dates, and lotus leaves. For New Year’s, the cake is cut into small pieces, steamed, or battered in egg and pan fried. The texture is similar to that of mochi.
You can find nian gao at multiple Asian supermarkets like 99 Ranch, 168 Market, GW-Supermarket, and Thuan Phat, as well as multiple Costo locations.
You can also find it at these local establishments:
The togetherness tray is a six or eight compartment (since six symbolizes luck and eight symbolizes wealth) candy box filled with different candied fruits, vegetables, snacks, and candies that all have symbolically auspicious meanings. The snacks featured are extra special since they are only sold this time of the year.
Dried pineapple signifies good luck or prosperity. Apples mean peace and harmony. Dried candied lotus root signifies abundance year after year. Dried candied coconut signifies togetherness. Dried red watermelon seeds signify happiness for its red color and fertility or an abundance of offspring (the word for seeds is a homophone for children). Citrus fruits symbolize prosperity and wealth, and peanuts symbolize longevity. Pistachios bring happiness, since the Chinese translation literally means “happy nuts.” Candied winter melon and ginger symbolize growth and good health.Hang & Eat with our food blogger Kristie Hang as she tries out the latest East West food trends. East West Bank serves as a cultural and financial bridge between the U.S. and China.