Chinese New Year: celebrate the Year of the Dragon with these foods

Chinese spring rolls, Pic: MASQ London

As the lunar calendar ushers in another cycle, the world awaits the dazzling spectacle of the Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival. Steeped in history, it is a time when families and communities come together to bring forth luck and prosperity. 

The Year of the Dragon begins on Saturday, February 10 and celebrations last 15 days. The Dragon is considered an animal of excellence in Chinese culture, symbolising power, nobility, honour, luck, and success. To mark the Year of the Dragon, there are celebrations across London including parades, firework displays, and performances. 

While Hackney, Tower Hamlets, and Lewisham are all marking the new year with various family fun events across the boroughs, this is not the case for the residents of Croydon. Unfortunately for Croydon dwellers, there are no local events to recognise the new year, and there haven’t been any since before the pandemic, so how can you celebrate at home? 

Luckily, food and drink play a big part in traditional festivities, and Croydon is home to Wing Yip Superstore, an Asian supermarket that stocks all the ingredients necessary to celebrate the new year. Specifically to make or buy the eight lucky dishes that are eaten to ensure certain characteristics are present in the new year. 

Spring Rolls (春卷 ): Wealth

Chinese spring rolls are made with a wheat-flour wrapper and filled with various ingredients such as shredded vegetables and meat; they’re rolled up and fried until golden brown. 

Simon Tang, restaurateur and owner of several bakeries in Chinatown, told Eastlondonlines: “Spring rolls look like gold bars, and that’s why they symbolise wealth. You need plenty of them so that you have enough gold; my family use fried tofu inside the rolls because they look like gold bricks, meaning in the new year, you will have brick loads of gold.”

Simon Tang at his bakery, Chinatown Bakery, Pic: Aidan Tang

You can buy pre-made spring rolls from the frozen section of Wing Yip Superstore or follow this recipe to make them from scratch at home. 

Noodles (麵): Longevity 

Noodles can be eaten in a variety of dishes. The most popular noodle-based meal eaten on the new year is longevity noodles, known as yi mein. However, as Tang explained, it doesn’t matter how you eat them as long as the noodles are long and yellow. 

He said: “The longer the noodle, the longer life you will have. Noodle dishes symbolise long life, and it’s always best to eat yellow ones because it means your life will be long and rich.”

To make yi mein at home, follow this recipe, or buy any pot of instant noodles for an easy way to bring in the lunar new year. 

Yi mein noodles, Pic: Chor Yut Shing

Mandarins (柑): Luck 

Traditionally, people give each other mandarin plants or tangerines for the new year. Tang explained: “You eat mandarins to bring in good luck because the Cantonese word for mandarins phonetically means lucky.”

Mandarins can be purchased at any local store.  

Mandarins, pic: Wikimedia Commons

Fish (魚): Prosperity 

Fish is a staple in any Chinese New Year meal, and just like noodles can be cooked in a variety of ways.

According to Tang: “In Cantonese, phonetically fish means plenty. You have to eat a whole fish so that you have plenty of what sounds like plenty to ensure a prosperous new year.”

Try this steamed whole fish recipe to ensure you have a plentiful new year. 

Whole steamed fish, Pic: Ulterior epicure

Sticky Rice Balls (湯圓): Reunion

Sticky rice balls, also known as Tang Yuan, are balls made from rice flour and stuffed with sweet fillings. Tang said: “we eat sticky rice balls because it represents everything being stuck together. If a family is sticking gathering to eat this food, it means there will be togetherness among them.” 

Buy Tang Yuan in packets, Tang recommends the sesame-filled ones. Or make them at home using this recipe

Tang yuan, Pic: Honest Food Talks

Sweet Rice Cake (年糕 ): Career Success

Chinese New Year cake, or  Nian Gao, is a delicious sugar sponge cake. Tang explains: “in Cantonese, the phonetic meaning of these is sticky, and in this case, it means you’re going higher in the year. As everything continues to stick together, your success will grow.”

Pick up Nian Gao from any bakery in Chinatown or bake it yourself using this recipe

Packaged nian gaos in stores, Pic: Choo Yut Shing

Dumplings (餃子): Wealth

Tang said: “making dumplings is a time for family to come altogether and wrap the dumplings at home, as one big happy family.”

Buy them frozen or make them at home using this recipe.

Steamed dumplings, Pic: Wikimedia Commons

Sweets (糖果): Luck

Eat any sweets you fancy or purchase traditional Chinese sweets in red slips from Wing Yip Superstore for a lucky New Year.

Tang added: “eat sweets for a good life!”

Chinese New Year red slips, Pic: Weifly

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