Eat These 10 Essential Chinese New Year Dishes

Chinese New Year feast in ChinaEXPAND
Chinese New Year feast in China
Clarissa Wei

There are a lot of symbolic dishes served during Chinese New Year. Each individual dish is steeped in tradition and is a homonym for a particular wish for the upcoming year, such as "have a lot of fun" or "make a lot of money." This year, the Spring Festival falls on Jan. 28. For 15 days, Chinese families around the globe return to their homes for two weeks of feasting, family bonding and receiving envelopes full of cash. In China especially, where migrant working culture is prevalent, the holiday is often the only time of year when people get to see their relatives. Food is the cornerstone of the celebrations. So in the spirit of the festivities, we've rounded up 10 essential Chinese, or Lunar, New Year dishes, and included the significance behind them all.

Savory rice cakeEXPAND
Savory rice cake

10. Rice cake, or nian gao 
The tradition of eating rice cake goes back 3,000 years. The Chinese word for rice cake, or nian gao, correlates to the phrase "nian nian gao sheng," which means "increasing prosperity year after year." Eating rice cakes also celebrates the beginning of the rice harvest in the spring. These cakes come in both savory and sweet variations. Mama Lu's, a Shanghainese dumpling spot in Monterey Park, has them in stir-fried form. 501 Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; (626) 307-5700.

Steamed fishEXPAND
Steamed fish

9. Fish, or yu 
The saying that goes with the Chinese New Year fish dish is "nian nian you yu," which means "may the year bring prosperity." The character for prosperity, yu, is a homophone for the word for fish, yu. Families buy a whole fish, which symbolizes unity, and typically steam it with ginger and a light soy sauce. It's also important to leave leftovers for the next day, because this signifies that the prosperity will overflow. Whole fish is the norm in Chinese restaurants. Try the steamed rock cod at Five Star Seafood Restaurant. 140 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 288-1899.

Tang yuanEXPAND
Tang yuan
Clarissa Wei

8. Sweet rice balls, or tang yuan 
These sweet rice balls typically are consumed during the 15th day of the celebration, known as the Yuanxiao Festival. The 15th day is also the first night of the full moon of the new lunar year. The dish is made differently depending on the geographic location. In the southern part of China, they're called tang yuan, and the stuffing is put in last, after the dough is made. In northern China, the rice dumplings are called yuanxiao. The filling is made first and rolled onto flour in a bamboo basket. The roundness of the rice balls signifies a complete circle of harmony and unity within the family. They are served in a soup and traditional fillings include sesame paste, red bean or peanuts. Wang Jia in San Gabriel serves a great version stuffed with sesame paste and topped with bits of osmanthus flower.
156 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 291-2233.

Turnip cakeEXPAND
Turnip cake
Flickr/Edsel Little

7. Turnip cake, or luo buo gao 
Turnip cakes, which originated in the Guangdong province, are a must-have for Cantonese people celebrating the New Year. It's also embraced in Taiwan because the Taiwanese pronunciation for turnip cake, cai tao gui, is a homonym for fortune. It is associated with the phrase "hao cai tao," which means good luck. The cakes can be served in two ways: steamed or fried. They can be found in any dim sum restaurant in Los Angeles. The versions at Lunasia in Alhambra are fried and massive.
500 W. Main St., Alhambra; (626) 308-3222.

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