You could use Lunar New Year as a reason to clean your room, as it is tradition to clean your space before the start of the new year. If that idea does not seem celebratory, you can mark the year of the rabbit with four tasty food items that are typically enjoyed at this time.
The holiday, which begins Sunday, lasts 15 days and is determined by the lunar calendar rather than the solar calendar used in the Western world. Celebrated by nearly 20 percent of people around the world, the holiday may include having dinner with family, gifting red envelopes, or enjoying fireworks and other performances.
“Lunar New Year is about rebirth and a fresh start to the new year, just like the Western New Year,” says David Uy, executive director of the Chinese American Museum Foundation in Washington. “So the foods follow a track of celebrating family, goodwill and love.”
Foods and their meanings are central to celebrating Lunar New Year. Here are four food items connected to the holiday, their meanings and where you may be able to find them.
Oranges (or any citrus fruits)
Oranges are tasty and great sources of vitamin C, but they also hold special meaning during the new year. Uy says that citrus fruit “represents a sweet life.” Since fresh fruit was traditionally difficult to find in wintertime, it became a rare gift representing prosperity and the richness in life. You can buy mandarin oranges, a variety that got its name for its popularity in China, at most grocery stores.
Sticky rice cakes
Called nian gao (pronounced nyen-gao) in Mandarin, this sweet treat is made from glutinous rice flour and sugar. While this food is eaten year round, according to Uy, it represents “an increase in prosperity” during the new year and raising your status. You can make sticky rice cakes at home, buy them from an Asian grocery store or bakery, or order them online.
Dumplings make a lovely dinner for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. The variety of fillings (often meat, egg, tofu or vegetables) means you can enjoy plenty of flavors wrapped in delicious dough. The dumpling shape, a very full half-moon, represents wealth. “They are supposed to symbolize a full purse,” Uy says. So while you are eating dinner, you can show off your full purses. Dumplings are sold frozen at most grocery stores or can be ordered fresh from Chinese restaurants. You can also make dumplings if you are up to the challenge. Try out this recipe at America’s Test Kitchen Kids.
While it can be frustrating to eat a noodle that feels like it will never end, that is exactly what you should eat to celebrate Lunar New Year. Long noodles, often marked in stores as Asian wheat noodles or Chinese egg noodles, such as yi mein, are said to represent a long life during the new year. You can find these noodles online or find them in Asian grocery stores and some chain grocery stores.
While you enjoy one or more of the above, wish friends and family “xīnnián kuàilè!” (pronounced shin-nyen kwai-le). That is Mandarin for “new year happiness!”