A menu guide for the traditional Chinese New Year food to serve at your big family feast in 2025, the year of the dragon, as well as tips on how 1 person can cook for the entire family!
When I was living in London, I loved to invite people over for a Chinese New Year bash. Unfortunately, it was just me in the kitchen, cooking for 10-15 people- unlike in Asia, there was no hired help, although I did manage to rope in a friend as a kitchen elf once!
After several hit and miss attempts- the most memorable of which was when I had to duck out to the supermarket mid-dinner as what I'd prepared wasn't enough to feed everyone (!!!)- I realised that the trick to successfully solo cook traditional Chinese New Year food for a large group is the recipe planning.
This post helps you to plan your Chinese New Year 2024 so that you'll be able to cook without help!
And don't forget the Chinese New Year snacks and red envelopes! No matter how good your Chinese New Year Feast is, kids will be disappointed if they don't get their lucky money!
Meal Planning Tips
For a Spring Festival feast that 1 person can cook up, you need a mix of recipes:
- that can be prepared days before the party such as Chinese New Year Cookies and tang yuan (which can be frozen.)
- that are prepared on the day of the party itself. As this will be your busiest day, choose dishes involving hands-off cooking (e.g. dishes that go into the oven), so that you can simultaneously prepare dishes that require active cooking
Alternatively, you can do what most Singaporeans do for Reunion Dinner on Chinese New Year's Eve and make hot pot (huǒ guō, 火锅)!
For a proper Chinese New Year meal, you also need "auspicious dishes" on your dinner table to usher in a good year and ward off bad luck.
These dishes either have names that are homonyms for good fortune and prosperity or have a symbolic meaning (typically relating to wealth and longevity.)
For example, dumplings and noodles are traditionally found on the New Year table because the former look like gold ingots, whilst the uncut long noodles symbolise longevity.
Scroll down for a an auspicious Chinese New Year feast that 1 person can cook up, focusing on traditional Lunar New Year foods!
The Week Before Chinese New Year
In the week leading up to Chinese New Year, buy your mandarin oranges and pomelos.
The Cantonese names are homonyms for gold and prosperity respectively. (I have been known to substitute other citrus fruits such as regular oranges for mandarins in a pinch, when living in a non-Asian country.)
Tip: A Chinese custom is to make sure that your oranges are piled up high in the bowl. You want your good luck to be overflowing in the year ahead!
In the same trip to the supermarket, buy your sweet treats and gold-wrapped chocolates: you want the year ahead to be as sweet as honey for the whole family!
If you hope to have kids (or grandchildren), stock up on some melon seeds too. Nuts and seeds are symbols of fertility in Chinese culture and traditionally placed in the centre of an octagonal plate (with the sweets and chocolates all around) as the number 8 is a homonym for "striking it rich."
You can also make your own nut candy, such as these candied walnuts. (They're very quick and easy to make.)
You can also batch make spring rolls (chūnjuǎn, 春卷) and freeze them to fry or bake on the actual day.
There are 2 times: the raw type and the fried, golden type. If you've picked up anything from this article, you'll have guessed that the golden ones are the ones we see at the New Year table, as they look like gold bars!
2-3 Days Before: Make CNY Snacks
Chinese New Year Snacks
Traditional snacks for Chinese New Year celebrations include:
- Chinese nut cookies, such as peanut cookies or Cantonese walnut cookies. (If deep frying your own nuts, the peanut cookies will take you over half a day to roast and skin- I made 1500 peanut cookies last year and have baked another 40 bottles in the last 2 weeks to come up with The Ultimate Chinese Peanut Cookies recipe.)
- Chinese Almond Cookies: these are the buttery American Chinese version that are crunchy and delicious!
- Chinese Cashew Nut Cookies
- Pineapple tarts: will take you at least a day to make if you are preparing your own pineapple jam. In Asia, they sell ready made pineapple paste but I like to make my own from scratch as you get a better texture and have more control over the level of sweetness.
- Tang Yuan (chewy round rice dumplings) to wish for friends and family to be reunited every year. These sweet rice balls (tāngyuán, 汤圆) can actually be frozen so you can actually make them waaaay in advance if you want. Remember to serve them only in even numbers- you can't reunite if there's only 1 of you!
Glutinous Rice Cake
Another traditional dish is Nian Gao but my family never had the habit of eating it and it's quite an acquired taste so I'm not including it in this list. If you do want to make it, here's a good recipe.
Although not very traditional, I also like to make these for the Lunar New Year:
- Golden Crispy Salted Egg Cornflakes
- Osmanthus konnyaku jelly: a pretty sweet that can be prepared a few days in advance and the yellow osmanthus tea flowers look like gold, making it another lucky food. Goes well with osmanthus tea on the side.
1-2 days Before
Some people feel the ba kwa (Chinese pork jerky) tastes better after resting for a day or 2 so ba kwa is the perfect dish to make in the days leading up to your Chinese New Year feast.
The deep red colour is considered lucky so even if you don't want to use artificial red colouring, don't forget to use tomato paste, beetroot extract, or red yeast to give your ba kwa a nice colour!
Tip: if you really can't live without the smoky flavour of ba kwa but aren't able to grill your own ba kwa over charcoal, use a blowtorch to char it OR add a pinch of liquid smoke to your ba kwa mixture. Note that there are some health concerns over using liquid smoke but the general consensus seems to be that using it in small amounts is OK.
If you make too much, here are some ideas for leftover bak kwa!
Braised abalone with mushrooms: generally Chinese people love abalones. They're a special occasion food because they're a homonym for abundance and symbolise prosperity but aren't cheap.
Note: Braised dishes usually taste better made the day before eating as the flavours have had time to meld together so this is the perfect Chinese New Year recipe to make beforehand.
For something lighter, you can make this Thai Vermicelli salad with abalone. It tastes better the next day as the noodles will have had time to absorb the sauce! For more Asian abalone recipes, click here.
On The Day
Traditionally we celebrate reunion dinner the night before Chinese New Year, but it's common to have gatherings throughout the 15 days of New Year, especially on the Even and Lantern Festival.
These dishes should be cooked on the day of your CNY celebration party.
3 hours before guests arrive, prepare your vegetable dish Buddha's Delight (Lo Han Zhai) which contains fatt choy, a seaweed that is both delicious and lucky- its name sounds like the phrase "make it rich!"
Hands Off Recipes
1 of the challenges of cooking for a crowd is that you have 2 hands but so many dishes to make!
Whole Chicken Recipes
2h 30 minutes Before: Poach a Chicken
Chicken (jī, 鸡) is a homonym for luck in Chinese and it is customary to serve your chicken (and fish) whole, so heads and feet (tail) still attached please.
I always get praised when I serve this Chinatown Soy Sauce Chicken at dinner parties- it's better than takeout, and mostly passive cooking! If soy sauce isn't your thing, here are more whole chicken recipes for Chinese New Year.
OR 1 hour 20 minutes Before: Roast a Chicken
Use 5 spice powder to roast your chicken, if you like it traditional.
Or, for something different, slather my chicken in mayonnaise and then roast it at 425F/ 220C for 20 minutes before lowering to 400F/ 200C for approximately another 40 minutes- give or take depending on the size of your chicken.
Note: Make sure the chicken is at room temperature before popping into the oven and don't forget to rest it before carving!
A great tip from Samin Nosrat - you may have seen her show on Netflix Salt Fat Acid Heat- is to have the legs pointing at the back corners of the oven as they take the longest to cook (and the back corners are usually the hotspots of the oven.) Switch the oven corners the legs are pointing towards midway through roasting.
Note: If you're really expecting hordes of people, bulk up your meal by popping some vegetables to roast at the same time. To get a crispy chicken skin, I usually place the vegetables on a different roasting tray from the chicken.
We often steam fish (yú, 鱼), topped with sesame oil, soy sauce and green onions, for Lunar New Year as the Chinese word for "fish" is a homonym for abundance.
However, cold fish does not taste good cold and not all guests are punctual! Moreover, after all the appetisers, snacks, noodles, dumplings and a whole chicken, a whole big fish may be too much so I usually serve my whole fish small: either oven baked shishamo or fried ikan bilis.
Note: if serving the whole fish, the same person should eat the head and tail as everything that has a beginning should have an end!
A prawn dish is also traditional for Chinese New Year as the name in Cantonese sounds like laughter, and who doesn't want a happy year ahead?
A plate of longevity noodles (cháng shòu miàn, 长寿面) is usually served to symbolise long life. Thankfully, Chinese noodles, such as this stir-fried vermicelli noodles (or Drunken Noodles or Gochujang Pasta if you're going the modern route), don't take very long to make!
You can cook them whilst the chicken is in the oven!
Tip: if you can't find authentic Asian noodles where you live, some types of pasta can substitute for noodles.
Note: some parts of China take this so seriously, the noodles are over 2 feet long!
Or make your dumplings (jiǎozi, 饺子)!
These daikon potstickers are paleo, low carb and whole30. (Using daikon as a wrapper is not traditional but it's nice to have something lighter on the menu after so many snacks and heavy foods.) Don't forget the super important jiaozi sauce.
Note: in some parts of China, a coin is wrapped into 1 dumpling and the person who eats that dumpling (but hopefully not the coin) is considered to be blessed in the year ahead.
Sounds quite dangerous to me though as it would be very easy to swallow the coin inadvertently!!
Koi Fish Jello
It's a common practice to serve a dish in the shape of the Chinese zodiac animal of the year. So you could use a dragon mold for this agar agar jelly too!
Note: For more lucky Chinese New Year desserts, click here!
Alternatively, serve Cantonese sweet soups such as this black sesame tong sui.
Whilst everyone is eating, have a pot of Chinese sour plum tea simmering on the stove, to help everyone digest this heavy meal! For something lighter, why not serve Chinese osmanthus tea, or dried longan and ginger tea for something warming?
So, you've now single-handedly cooked a Chinese New Year feast that consists of ba kwa, roast chicken, braised abalones and mushrooms, dumplings, noodles, Buddha's Delight, peanut cookies, osmanthus cookies and tang yuan.
Give yourself a pat on the back and take a well-deserved rest before the next Chinese New Year rolls around again! If you've enjoyed this list, maybe you'd like to sign-up for my newsletter?