What food do you eat on Lunar New Year?
2023 is the year of the rabbit and as a new year dawns, hope grows for what is to come.
Because the Lunar New Year is tied to the first new moon of the year, it begins anytime between mid-January and mid-February. This year the holiday begins on January 22nd. About 2 billion people around the world celebrate the Lunar New Year.
As with many festivals, food plays a role in bringing people together for the Lunar New Year, and the symbols behind certain foods vary based on ethnicity and region. Among them are:
- Dumplings representing family and wealth
- Long noodles that stand for longevity
- Sticky rice or glutinous rice is often formed into balls to symbolize completeness and to mimic rounded money
- Fish, especially whole fish, represents abundance and abundance
- Tangerines and tangerines believed to bring luck and good luck.
Gannett’s Asian American Forward Employee Resource Group, which connects nearly 140 Asian American employees and allies across the company, wanted to highlight the many rich traditions between cultures. Read on to see how members are celebrating the holiday.
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‘We always make 8 dishes’
Eating together on the Lunar New Year is as traditional as it is steeped in symbolism and superstition. In Cantonese, the number 8 means “wealth/wealth,” so let’s make eight dishes.
Thinking about all of these dishes, I know that the main course is always a steamed fish, completely intact from head to fin. It’s amazing how delicious a steamed fish can taste with a few ingredients like soy sauce and scallions.
For me, a New Year’s Eve dinner shouldn’t be complete without dessert. My favorite dish is a sweet black sesame soup with sticky rice balls (zi-ma-wu) infused with sesame paste.
– Martin Li, Client Advocacy Manager for Arizona-based Gannett
Family celebration, incense sticks and fortune from a Buddhist temple
The night before the Lunar New Year begins, I always visit my parents for dinner. We have a huge feast with a variety of dishes including meat, vegetables and fish. My family grew up in Vietnam, so along with the Chinese traditions, we also do some Vietnamese ones. We fry nian gao (a sweet Chinese sticky rice cake) and bánh tet (spicy, if sometimes sweet, Vietnamese sticky rice rolled into sticks with a banana leaf).
My family has altars around the house that are stacked with food, sweets, fruits – especially oranges – for celebration. We also pass by one of the Buddhist temples to watch the lion dances, light incense for the New Year and get our fortune from the temple people/monks. We dress up to welcome the new year.
— Em Chan, dining and eating reporter for the Statesman Journal in Oregon
Food, ancestral altars and blessings for the Lunar New Year
China ruled Vietnam for a thousand years, so it’s fair to say we inherited a few things. One big thing was the Chinese New Year, which we Vietnamese call Tet. And although Chinese astrology says that this Sunday begins the Year of the Rabbit, somewhere in history it got lost in translation and became the Year of the Cat in Vietnam.
A traditional tet dish is banh chung, a steamed square cake made of glutinous rice, mung beans, and pork, wrapped in banana leaves. According to legend, several thousand years ago, a Vietnamese king held a competition for a successor among his many sons. The youngest prince, being poorer than the older ones, decided to do something simple that had symbolic meaning for his father. He called it Earth Cake. And it brought him the throne and has banh chung his place of Lunar New Year honor ever since.
On Tet Giao Thua, New Year’s Eve, I serve banh chung on my ancestral altar along with other Vietnamese dishes. It is our tradition to ask our ancestors for blessings for the Lunar New Year. Our altar not only contains pictures of my father, grandparents and great-grandparents, but also of my husband’s ancestors. I also like to think that they celebrate together without words getting lost in translation.
– USA TODAY Editorial Board Member Thuan Le Elston is the author of Rendezvous at the Altar: From Vietnam to Virginia.
Watch lion dances and then grab a Chinese snack
For many years I was often “the only one” at school, at work and in my free time. So whenever there were Asian events, you could bet I was there. Chinese New Year was one of my favorites.
Although my family and I don’t celebrate the actual holiday — we’re “proud Pinoys,” slang for Filipino — I would bookmark the schedule for events in Brevard County, Florida.
I am a third degree Black Belt or Sensei in Ueshiro Shorin-Ryu Karate USA and I have always been amused by the martial arts, grace and showmanship of the Lion and Dragon Dances. Years ago, my daughter Jade Sangalang and I attended three Melbourne Wah Lum Kung Fu and Tai Chi Lion Dances at three different Chinese restaurants in one week. Even though it was the same dance and we pushed forward each time to soak it all up, there was a zest in my step to be with people who looked like me and all celebrated Asian culture.
We listened to the lion dances, watched kung fu and weapon demonstrations, ate fortune cookies, and then took home Chinese takeaways: pork fried rice, broccoli beef, bourbon chicken, and sweet and sour chicken. And more fortune cookies.
Like so many other Asians in the US and abroad, I look forward to the Year of the Rabbit.
– Jennifer Sangalang, Lead Producer for the Florida Audience Team and Co-Chair of Gannett’s Asian American Forward ERG
“Growing up it wasn’t customary to mention the Lunar New Year”
Growing up in a primarily Caucasian community in Ohio, celebrating the Chinese New Year in public was not a common practice. At home, my mother honored the New Year by incorporating “lucky foods” into the Chinese New Year week. These foods include fish, dumplings, tangyuan (sweet rice balls), and nian gao (sticky rice cake). As a kid who didn’t quite understand what we were celebrating, eating these things was a treat. As an adult, I can appreciate my mother instilling nostalgia for these foods in me. While we didn’t have such a grand celebration of Chinese New Year in Ontario, Ohio, eating the same foods and understanding the meaning behind them now makes me feel closer to my culture.
– Suzy Situ, Senior Manager of Growth Free to Paid Conversion at Gannett and Co-Chair of Asian American Forward ERG
Featuring: Jennifer McClellan, USA TODAY