Lunar New Year: a feast across borders

Lunar New Year is a festival which welcomes in the start of the lunisolar calendar. Each year is named after a different animal that represents part of the Chinese Zodiac calendar; this upcoming year is the Year of the Tiger. While the holiday originated in China, it is celebrated across the world but primarily in the cultures of East and Southeast Asia and traditions vary greatly amongst cultures. Here are just four examples of the many meals that are eaten as part of the celebration.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, we have the iconic 盤菜 Poon-choi to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Originating from the village communities in New Territories, it is a unique and traditional Hong Kong dish that symbolises unity and togetherness. Poon-choi is a hodgepodge of seafood, meat, vegetables and fungi in a giant communal pot. Each ingredient in the pot has its own special meaning: abalone and fat-choi symbolise wealth and prosperity, while fish maw symbolises abundance and bountiful harvest. 蘿蔔糕 Lo bak go (Turnip Cake) is made with radish and Cantonese sausages and is a well-loved dish during Lunar New Year. It can be served steamed or stir-fried with chilli sauce depending on personal preferences. The crispy outer layer and a soft, aromatic inner layer of this savoury Dim Sum dish are why it appears in every household during this time of the year. Still have space? 湯圓 Tangyuan will be a delicious treat to wrap up the whole feast. They are chewy glutinous rice balls that have tasty fillings such as peanut, sesame, red bean paste or even chocolate! As it sounds similar to ‘togetherness’ in Cantonese, there is a tradition to share and enjoy Tangyuan with our families. The Year of the Tiger is arriving soon, why not greet your Hong Kong friend with 新年快樂 Sun Nin Fai Lok (Happy New Year)? Maybe you will get to try one of these dishes made by them!

The Year of the Tiger is arriving soon, why not greet your Hong Kong friend with 亲年快樂 Sun Nin Fai Lok (Happy New Year)?

Northeast China

As an unfortunate second year who spent Epiphany term of first year at home, this year marks my first ever Lunar New Year celebrated without my parent’s incredible homemade meals. Our family’s tradition is 鸭饼 Yā bǐng (crispy duck and pancakes) on the eve of the day. My dad is from a small provincial town in China where they have their own traditional method of making pancakes. The process involves pressing two pieces of oiled dough together before rolling them into a pancake and frying in a pan. If done properly, the two pieces of dough can be easily peeled apart to create two chewy but soft pancakes: one of my life goals is to perfect the method. For dinner on Lunar New Year, we have homemade 饺子 Jiǎozi (dumplings) – the boiled kind rather than steamed. We make them together as a family, one person each on dough rolling, dumpling filling, dumpling crimping. Our wider family always add an almond nut into just one of the dumplings while they are being made. If you eat the dumpling with the nut, you will have luck this coming year! In our home, we use a hard-boiled sweet so as to not give me anaphylaxis.

Beijing, China


Korean Lunar New Year comes with greasy and savoury aromas each year. Since oil was not cheap in medieval, agricultural Korea, fried foods were often reserved for holidays and celebrations. 전 Jeon is a primary example of this: these fritters/pancakes, made from a variety of meats and vegetables, serve as a staple of family gatherings due to how filling and satisfying they are. 잡채 Japchae is another typical LNY pick: this stir-fry dish centred around glass noodles and vegetables is a favourite of mine (and it’s easy to veganise!). My absolute favourite, however, has got to be 떡국 Tteokguk, or sliced rice cake soup, which is often the main event. The cylindrical form in which the type of Korean rice cake 가래떡 garrae-tteok used for this dish is manufactured is symbolic of a long, healthy life. The magic of holiday food comes not only from its novelty, but also its communal aspect. Lunar New Year is the time to get together with those you love and share stories over a delicious meal.

The magic of holiday food comes not only from its novelty, but also its communal aspect


The savoury aroma of ไก่ไหว้เจ้า gai-wai-jao (boiled whole chicken) and ผัดหมี่อายุยืน pad-mee-aayu-yeun (long-living egg noodles) spiral around us in a loving embrace as we get out of bed on the morning of the Lunar New Year. After a round of prayers to the spirits, my brother and I tuck into our breakfast, slurping the oily noodles and tearing apart the yellow skin of the chicken, its gamey notes accompanied by the spicy, acidic punch of น้ำ จิ้มซีฟู้ดส์ namjimseafood (green seafood sauce). The meal is completed with a piece of ขนมถ้วยฟู kanom-tuay-foo (steamed cake); a sweet, airy fluff that melts in the mouth. Lunch begins with a cup of steaming tea, which cleanses our palates for the feast ahead. ไก่แช่เหล้า gai-chalao (chicken marinated in alcohol), เป็ดย่าง ped-yang (roasted chicken), and ปลาจาระเม็ดนึ่งเกี้ยมบ๊วย pla-jaramed-neunggeaum-buay (fish with plum blossom) are family favourites with salty, sour and umani flavours. We finish off with ขนมเข่ง kanomkeng (sticky rice cakes); the sweet, caramelised texture of the delicacy reminding me of childhood.

Image credit: Elvir K via Unsplash

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