Eat Yourself Lucky: What to Eat for Chinese New Year

By Ruth Hazard

Now the hangover from January 1 is little more than a painful memory it’s time to celebrate all over again as we mark the Chinese New Year.

Chinese dumplings
Photo used under creative commons by kattebelletje

While the English tradition relies on drinking yourself through to 2012, in China this is an occasion where families come together to enjoy a feast.

Whether you’re brave enough to try making something yourself or would rather exercise your skills at dialling the local Chinese takeaway, there’s no better excuse to grab your chopsticks and dig in.

Ancient Chinese traditions dictate the menu for tonight’s meal, with food that is thought to bring luck, health and prosperity being enjoyed across the Eastern continent.

Here’s what you should choose to ensure a happy and healthy new year…


These dumplings signify reunion. In northern China families traditionally spend New Year’s Eve together preparing the dumplings, which are to be eaten at midnight.
One lucky person will find a gold coin inside of theirs.
Jiaozi are a symbol of wealth and prosperity because their crescent shape bears resemblance to ancient Chinese money.

Spring Rolls, Egg Rolls and Clam Sycee

All of these dishes resemble gold or silver bullion and symbolise wealth.

Lettuce Wraps

The Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like rising fortune so it is common to serve lettuce wraps filled with other lucky food. Although normally stuffed with chicken, you can turn this into an even more symbolic dish by using oysters as in Chinese it sounds like the word also used fro ‘good’.

Lion’s Head Meatballs

This dish from Shanghai consists of oversized meatballs which are surrounded by bok choi “manes.” The lion represents power and strength in Chinese culture.

Steamed Whole Fish

The word for fish, “Yu,” sounds like the words both for wish and abundance, and serving a fish at the end of the meal symbolises a wish for abundance in the coming year


Said to represent longevity, be sure not to cut them! Slurp instead.

Cooking for yourself?

Jiaozi dumplings

Serves 10
Preparation time:
60 minutes
Cooking time:
7 minutes

For the dough
350g / 13g plain white flour
Cold water
Good pinch of salt

For the filling
100g / 3.5oz minced pork or beef
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp dry sherry or rice wine
Freshly ground pepper
3 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 onion, very finely chopped
4 tbsp water chestnuts, finely chopped
4 tbsp bean sprouts
1 small piece of ginger, very finely chopped
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped


Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and slowly add cold water until you have smooth dough.

Knead the dough for around 5 minutes before covering and leaving to rest in a warm place for 30 minutes to an hour.

Place the minced pork or beef into a bowl and add the soy sauce, salt, rice wine / sherry and pepper before stirring well.

Add the sesame oil, onion, water chestnuts, bean sprouts, ginger and garlic, and again stir well.

Divide the dough into around 60 pieces and roll each piece out into a 3-inch circle.

Place 1 level tbsp of the mixture onto each circle and fold the dough over before pinching the edges firmly together.

To cook the dumplings, bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the dumplings for 5–7 minutes.

Pull one apart to see if the meat is cooked before removing from the heat.

Dumplings can then be pan-fried if you’d prefer a crispy coating.

Serve with bowls of sweet chilli dipping sauce, and soy sauce with chopped spring onion and chilli if you like.


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