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The Best Foods for Celebrating Chinese New Year

If any of you nerds make a "bing chilling" joke in the comments, I swear to god.

The heartwarming conclusion of Pixar's short film, Bao.

Gong hei fat choy! Especially to all you bunny rabbits, because we’re coming onto the Year of the Rabbit, baby. Chinese New Year officially begins on January 22, and with the start of this new year, we’re retiring the Tiger to welcome the viciously cute Rabbit. Get ready for plenty of White Rabbit Creamy Candy, which I’ll finally have an excuse to tell my white friends about without them making fun of me.

Of course, we won’t be celebrating with candy alone. There’s a plethora of dishes to commit to, traditional and otherwise, for this coming Chinese New Year. Read on if you need some inspiration for your celebration meal!

1. Jiao Zi (dumplings)

The name “jiao zi” is somewhat literally translated into “an exchange of the midnight hour.” It’s the perfect New Year food, both for the sake of the metaphor and because dumplings slap. It’s hard to mess up the dumpling format, especially if you know what you’re doing. I’m partial to pork soup dumplings, which explode in your mouth like meaty gushers. But different regions make different dumplings, and ultimately, as long as you make them with purpose and love, you’re doing it right.

2. Noodles (“longevity” or otherwise)

I love Claire Danes, but watching her character in Fleishman Is in Trouble call lo mein “spaghetti” made me want to slap her. Noodles and Chinese culture are tied so tightly together, you may as well consider them part of our internal organs. Specifically, many Chinese families like to make “longevity noodles,” which are longer-than-normal noodles that are supposed to grant you good luck—provided you slurp those puppies all the way and don’t bite into them to make them shorter. You don’t have to make them this long—my family never did—but it is pretty fun and meaningful.

3. Some kinda fish dish

Many families consider fish to be a must-eat, as the word for fish—”yu”—can also be translated as “wealth surplus.” And we’re all tryna be on top of our money game, you know? Typically, half the fish is eaten the first day, and the other half is eaten the next. Ultimately, you wanna make sure the whole fish is eaten so that your family can remain prosperous and healthy. Usually it’s steamed, but I see no reason why you couldn’t do something else with your fish, like make fish cakes.

4. Some kinda chicken dish

Similarly, eating a whole chicken is supposed to give you and your family added strength and fortitude going into the New Year. The symbolism of chicken revolves around “reunion and rebirth,” and once upon a time, families would offer the chicken to their ancestors after cooking it. Of course, it helps that chickens taste so damn good (sorry, chickens). You can stir fry it, put it in soup, or incorporate it into your dumplings, but if you really want to be traditional, you’ll save the head and claws. And yes, chicken feet are actually pretty tasty. Relax.

5. Spring rolls

Typically, spring rolls are eaten to commemorate the beginning of spring—hence the name. They’re easy to make and are usually liked by everyone. I happen to be the One Person who doesn’t like spring rolls, although I enjoy making them and seeing people’s faces light up when I say, “I made spring rolls and I’m not gonna eat them, do you want them?”

What makes them so accessible, I think, is how much variety can go into the filling. They’re typically filled with a mixture of meat, veggies, and sauce, but you can put red bean paste in them, too, as well as fish and mushrooms.

6. Glutinous rice cake

I’m being very general here because there’s so many ways to use glutinous rice for the New Year, and there’s so many types of cakes that people end up eating. Some people just make them plain for soups and the like, while others eat them as desserts. The word for these cakes—”Nian Gao”—loosely translates to an elevation of oneself, regarding either personal successes or, for children, to literally grow up. Either way you look at it, I’m pretty certain that they’re gifts from higher powers. I love rice cakes.

7. Winter vegetables

To fully move into spring with heartiness, one must reap what they’ve sown over the winter—and damn, winter veggies can go hard. Some veggies that hold symbolic value for the New Year are seaweed (for wealth), bamboo shoots (for long, prosperous lives), and leeks (also for wealth and long lives). Personally, I enjoy some steamed bok choy with soy sauce. A lot of these foods are very salty, so it’s good to have some crisp, filling vegetables to add some balance to your plate.

8. Pork belly & taro

This one kind of surprised me while doing my research, as I’d never had this dish growing up, but apparently it’s very popular in southern provinces. Taro and pork are popular combinations in Chinese and Taiwanese foods anyways, so it does make sense that they’d be paired for the New Year. Taro is sweet and creamy without being overwhelming, while pork is often cooked in a way that makes its flavor quite rich and salty. A pretty divine combo, if you ask me.

9. Hot pot

Everyone loves hot pot, and why not? It’s the ideal food for winter. You boil a delicious broth and dip delicious foods into it. You really can’t go wrong here, unless you undercook your foods, and in that case that’s really your fault anyways. Some people like their broth to be spicier, others tangier, and others saltier. I like a mix of it all, until the color is slightly red but with pockets of undiluted chicken broth and specks of soy sauce.

10. Baked char siu bao

This one’s more of a “my family” thing, but I highly recommend it to any and all. Go to your favorite Chinese bakery, no matter how far, and order a dozen baked char siu bao. The best pork of your life, wrapped in sweet bread. Of course, you could get steamed bao instead, but I’m partial to the baked ones. They taste like all the comforts of home in one perfect little bun.

(featured image: Pixar)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer and dog mom. She aims to use her writing to positively represent mixed-race people like herself, and is currently working on a novel. However, when she isn't writing, she's either battling insomnia or taking too many naps. You can read her stuff at https://madelinecwrites.com/