A comprehensive list of scrumptious Chinese New Year Recipes 2023: from traditional dishes, savoury snacks and drinks to modern recipes, including some vegan and paleo options!
Chinese people love food and so food is a big part of celebrating Chinese New Year, also known as CNY, Lunar New Year or Spring Festival! (Fun fact: other countries who follow the lunar calendar have similar celebrations, such as Tet in Vietnam.)
Symbolism is also very important- from giving out tangerines and beautifully decorated red envelopes (containing money) as a gesture of luck for the year ahead, to using food to represent your hopes and dreams for 2023! (The themes are usually: wealth, happiness and unity.)
Which is why I'm using "39+" in the title of this post- the number "4" is considered bad luck to Chinese people!
P.S. If it's just you in the kitchen and you're feeling overwhelmed at the thought of cooking reunion dinner alone, check out my CNY menu planning guide for a delicious meal that 1 person can easily handle.
🐓 A Whole Chicken = A Good Year
It's important to serve chicken as a whole on the CNY table as this represents wholeness and prosperity. (Save the cut up chicken stir-fry for other days of the year!)
If you're feeling fancy, you could serve Peking duck and these sides instead. Peking duck isn't a traditional Chinese lunar New Year recipe, but it is associated with special events as it's quite expensive and hard to make, so not an everyday dish!
Note: if you want to make this on regular days but prefer a quicker recipe, try this simplified braised chicken thigh version.
Soy Sauce Chicken
The chicken is basically poached in soy sauce till it's fall off the bone tender. (If you prefer a Western-style poached chicken, click here.)
Ginseng Chicken Soup
Chinese New Year is a time of celebration so what better time to use up your expensive dried ginseng?
Other whole chicken ideas include:
- roast chicken, rubbed in 5-spice powder
- poached in chicken stock with ginger and garlic (basically Singaporean Hainanese Chicken)
Note: You can find more Asian whole chicken recipes here.
🍥 Fish = Prosperity
Typically, Chinese people love to serve a whole fish for the family reunion meal as fish in Chinese (魚/ 鱼,"yu") sounds like abundance, which symbolises prosperity in the coming year.
The head is actually considered a delicacy as the cheeks of the fish are very tender. If you eat the head of the fish, you must also eat the tail to represent wholeness- there's a beginning (head) and end (tail) for everything!
Nonetheless, many non-Asians find the sight of a whole fish on the table a little unappetising, so if you have non-Asian guests, try 1 of these fish dishes instead!
Not a typical dish in Mainland China, but commonly seen on the dining table of South East Asian Chinese families, where Chinese people have started incorporating local ingredients and cooking styles in their diets!
Tip: if you want a more Western-style meal, with appetisers and mains, why not serve this spicy Tuna Dip?
Sweet and Sour Fish
Koi Fish Agar Agar Jelly
You can probably tell by now that Chinese people love symbols, which is why it's common to use the shape of a fish to symbolise wealth when one doesn't have a real whole fish on the table!
P.S. It's important to serve Chinese Desserts during the Lunar New Year as their sweetness means you'll have a sweet year ahead.
🍤 Shrimp = Laughter
The word "shrimp" in Cantonese sounds like laughing (蝦/ 虾"ha"), so serving shrimp at your reunion meal is thought to usher in a year full of happiness and smiles!
P.S. Congee isn't a typical dish for special occasions, but in case you were interested, here's a shrimp congee recipe.
Another popular lunar new year ingredient is shrimp!
Sweet and Sour Shrimp
🦪 Abalone = Good Fortune
The Chinese word for Abalone- 鲍鱼 "Bao Yu"- sounds like an explosion of abundance, so Chinese people like to have an abalone dish for the Spring Festival.
Abalone Noodle Starter
Abalone Chicken Congee
🥟 Dumplings = Wealth
Dumplings are more lucky foods in Chinese culture, as the golden morsels look like gold ingots! (Or is it just wishful thinking??)
Potstickers Jiao Zi
If you're baffles as to what to serve with Chinese dumplings, click here for ideas.
💰Egg rolls = $$$
Golden spring rolls and egg rolls look like gold bars, so they're another popular Lunar New Year dish!
Note: For more lucky golden food suggestions for your lunar new year table, check out this post.
🍜 Uncut Noodles = Long Life
Noodles are a key part of the Chinese New Year table, thanks to their association with long life in Chinese culture. For CNY longevity noodles recipes, click here.
So far, I've never been to a Chinese New Year gathering with soup noodles- it's always been stir-fried/ dry noodles. If your family celebrates with soup noodles, I'd love to hear about it!
Update: my friend who is Hing Hwa does have mee suah soup for Chinese New Year. (My family is Hokkien so the traditions are different.)
Stir Fried Bee Hoon
Mee Siam Goreng
For a Straits Chinese flavor (i.e. the South East Asian Chinese), try this stir-fried tangy, sweet and spicy noodle recipe!
🎃 Pumpkin = A Bountiful Year
Did you know that Pumpkin is not just for Thanksgiving? It's also eaten during CNY!
Pumpkin Soup with Seafood
Pumpkin Chicken Curry
Nan Gua Bing
Note: Click through for more Asian pumpkin lunar new year recipes and here for Japanese pumpkin (Kabocha, not the cuisine!) recipes.
Yu Sheng = Abundance, Fortune, Good Luck etc
Yee Sang or Yu Sheng, is many people's favourite CNY dish! The dish originated in China donkey years ago, but its current form is a Singaporean invention from the 60s.
It's great fun as you have symbolic sayings to recite as you add the different components- so there's an element of showmanship in this dish! Everyone gets together to toss the salad- the higher one tosses, the higher one will climb in the next year so people can get quite competitive!
The bit that you get in your serving also has meanings: for example, if you get the fried wonton skin, it looks like gold nuggets, so you'll have money coming your way soon!
What to say when serving yu sheng/ yee sang
- as you squeeze the lime (or lemon) say da ji da li (大吉大利) (In English this means good luck)
- As you add the fish (usually salmon), say nian nian you yu (年年有余) - fish is pronounced as "yu" in Chinese as well so this is a play on words to symbolise excess in the next year
- As you pour the dressing oil (do it in a circular motion), say cai yuan guang jin (财源广进)
- As you add the plum sauce, tian tian mi mi (甜甜蜜蜜) - because plum sauce is sweet (tian) your life will be sweet!
- As you add seeds and sesame nuts, aay wu gu feng shou (五谷丰收)
- As you sprinkle the fried bits- many people's favourite- say jin yu man tang (金玉满堂) (the golden dough looks like gold ingots)
And then you can toss like crazy, whilst saying any of this phrases:
- HUAT AH! (i.e. you're gonna strike it rich!
- gong xi fa cai (恭喜发财)
- shen ti jian kang (身体健康)
- wan shi ru yi (万事如意) (Happy New Year, May you Get Rich and be healthy and hope everything goes your way)
If you're interested in Singaporean food, click here!
Nian Gao = Better Year Ahead
Sticky Rice Cake is a traditional New Year dish because its name, Nian Gao, literally translates into "Year Higher" i.e. better times ahead!
It's usually served as a steamed sweet dish, but sometimes also stir-fried (kind of like Korean tteokbokki!)
As the sweet version is so common, I'm including a savory recipe instead!
Chinese Meat Jerky
Another of the traditional lunar new year foods is bak kwa or Chinese pork jerky. If you bought too much, here are some delicious recipes for bak kwa leftovers!
This dish was popular in Taiwan when I was young! To learn more about Taiwanese food, click here.
Tip: Char Siu can be served as a main on its own, bulked up by these BBQ pork side dishes!
Sweet and Sour Pork
I've included quite a few sweet and sour recipes in this list- Sour ("suan") sounds like grandchild ("sun") in Chinese, and progeny is a big concern of the Chinese elderly so this is considered a Good Dish for a family meal!
Instant Pot Pork
The stove can get crowded when cooking for big families, so I'm including some off-the-stove recipes today!
12345 Braised Pork Ribs
So easy it's like counting 12345, but so delicious, it's a life-changing recipe in my opinion!
🍬 Sweet Snacks
Every Chinese family puts out a lot of sweet treats that are not desserts for guests to enjoy when visiting!
These can be anything from cookies to actual candies and chocolates!
Chinese Walnut Cookies
If you love Cantonese food, click here for more Hong Kong recipes.
Peanut Cookies (Vegan)
Note: For more nut recipes, try these sweet and savoury Asian nut recipes.
The name of this dish in Teochew also has good connotations, as explained in the post.
🍘 Savory Snacks
Chinese New Year is infamous for its sweets but I'm a savory fan, so here goes!
Salted Ducks Egg Popcorn
Instead of splurging on Irvin's Salted Egg Fish Skin (and risking a lizard or 2), save money and make your own salted egg treats!
Tip: You can even make your own salted egg for this sauce!
Salted Egg Cornflake Crunch
Note: For more Asian snack recipes, check out this Asian party foods round-up that I created for Super Bowl!
Traditionally, there aren't many vegan Chinese dishes, as even vegetable dishes may use chicken or pork stock.
With the growing interest in plant-based diets, I've done a round-up specifically for vegan Chinese New Year dishes!
🍭 Desserts = A Sweet Year
If you're looking specifically for Chinese New Year cookies for 2023, click here!
Tang Yuan = Reunion
The round shape of this traditional Chinese dessert- and its name "yuan"- represents reunion and family togetherness, which is why Chinese families eat it on New Year's Eve and at family gatherings!
Note: If you prefer something more nourishing, stuff these glutinous sweet rice balls with red bean paste or homemade black sesame paste.
Gui Hua Gao
This traditional Chinese sweet is 1 of my most popular Chinese New Year recipes every year!
Steamed Bird's Nest Soup
Black Sesame Tong Sui
Note: if you like black sesame, you'll love this sesame latte, shown on the right! Beautiful and delicious!
Sugar Free Jelly
Konnyaku Jelly isn't the typical Chinese New Year dessert, but given how we all tend to overeat during the festive season, I thought it would be good to include some healthy sweets!
Click here for more no sugar (and no white flour!) desserts!
And just for fun, there's usually a dish on the table that's in the shape of the Chinese Zodiac for the year.
For example, 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit, so we'll be seeing anything from Rabbit Jelly to Yu Sheng Salad plated in the form of a rabbit!
Before there were fizzy drinks, Chinese families used to make big batches of longan tea with Chinese red dates and goji berries for the new year!
Tiger Milk Tea
Not traditional, but so easy to make using thick brown sugar syrup and so popular these days, I couldn't leave this Taiwanese drink out!
Suan Mei Tang
After so much feasting, have some plum tea to help you digest! (Not to be confused with Korean plum tea, which is made from a different type of plum!)
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