12 Chinese New Year Lucky Foods and Their Meanings
Just in case you need another excuse to binge on these snacks this CNY!
As with many Chinese New Year traditions, much of the traditional food we gobble up are full of symbolic meaning. Do you know which Chinese New Year lucky foods you should eat more of to have a good year ahead?
Here are 12 Chinese New Year Lucky Foods to feast on this Year Of The Pig
1. Pineapple Tarts
The lucky meaning of this New Year treat comes from the pronunciation of ‘pineapple’ in Cantonese – “Wong Lye” – which happens to sound like Cantonese for ‘beckoning prosperity.’
This treat is typically baked to a golden-brown in the oven, supporting its wealth-related symbolism.
2. Kuih Kapek or Love Letters
Legend has it that love letters got their romantic name from the times when women weren’t allowed to leave their house. A quick-witted maiden decided to hide small notes into the biscuits and tossed them over her house walls for the suitor next door to find.
The love letters usually are those folded-like-a-crepe type, though the round versions are also popular.
3. Cashew Nut Cookies
Another baked treat associated with wealth is the cashew nut cookie. It is said that it resembles the boat-shaped gold ingot used as currency in the past.
The toasted cashew nut atop buttery pastry is also delicious, so you can say you are eating more of this to receive more and more wealth this year!
4. Jiao Zi (Soup Dumplings)
This popular food is also considered lucky because it resembles ingots, but this time, silver ones.
Not all soup dumplings are lucky, though! Superstition warns one not to put Chinese sauerkraut (“suan cai”) in our dumpling fillings on New Year’s. The name of the vegetable – literally ‘sour vegetable’ – implying that one will have a ‘sour’ and a difficult year ahead.
5. Mandarin Oranges
Oranges are the quintessential Chinese New Year food. Would Chinese New Year be the same without carrying a pair of these around when visiting your relatives?
Although widely practised by most Chinese people in Singapore and Malaysia, this practice originated as a southern Chinese custom. The Hokkien and Cantonese word for the mandarin orange – “gam”/”kam” – shares a pronunciation with the word for ‘gold’. Hence, the practice of giving oranges (or “song gam”) represents wishing prosperity upon the recipient.
The Chinese character for the orange (桔) also contains the Chinese character for luck (吉). These mean that this humble fruit is lucky both in written and spoken form!
6. Bak Kwa
Bak kwa is a pork delicacy that is traced back to the Fujian province in China. History says poor peasant folks would only have the opportunity to eat meat a few times a year – one of them being New Year. To preserve the meat, it was cut then into thin slices, marinated with sugar and spices and air-dried, and only cooked in Spring.
The beef jerky food is also called “long yoke” in Cantonese, which sounds like “to have good fortune”.
7. Lian Zi Tang (Lotus Seed Candy)
Once again, wordplay is at play here. Made by crystallising lotus seeds in sugar, lotus seed candy gained its significance from its name. Lotus seed – “Lian Zi” (莲子) – sounds a lot like “continuous, or multiple, male offspring”.
This was a common wish in a culture which traditionally valued the continuation of the male line in the family.
8. Nian Gao (Glutinous Rice Cake)
Literally translated, the name of the traditional pudding-cake “Nian Gao” means ‘year cake’. “Gao” or cake, is also a homonym of the word for “high”. Hence, “Nian Gao” implies one will reach greater heights in the new year, be it in your professional life, studies, or business ventures.
9. Chun Jian (Spring Roll)
Thought to resemble gold bars, golden-fried spring rolls are a lucky and delicious New Year food popular in the Cantonese region of China.
One lucky phrase to say while eating these rolls is “huan jin wan liang” (黄金万两) – meaning ten thousand ‘liang’s of gold, ‘liang’ being a traditional unit of weight.
Peanuts are not just peanuts in terms of significance in the Chinese culture. The Mandarin name of peanuts – “Hua Sheng” – contains the word “sheng” meaning ‘life’ or ‘birth’ and ‘growth’.
11. Tang Yuan (Sticky Rice Balls)
This traditional Chinese dessert reperesents family reunion, because “yuan” also means ‘completeness’, or ‘togetherness’. So when your grandma tells you she’s made Tang Yuan, she’s really asking you all to visit!
12. Chang Shou Mian (Longevity Noodles)
One doesn’t need to be a linguist to figure out the symbolic meaning of this food. Traditionally eaten on one’s birthday, as well as other important occasions, this noodle is made to be very long, representing long life.
Which ones of these are you looking forward to eating?