Skip to main content

Chinese New Year: Food and Culture

Mandarin Oranges

Mandarin oranges is a must eat during Chinese New Year.

Mandarin oranges is a must eat during Chinese New Year.

Culture and Tradition

Every year, Chinese people all around the world await the celebration of Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year is a festival which is steeped in culture and tradition. During this time of the year, there are lots of delicious food to savor. For these foods, some add special meaning to this festival through beliefs passed down from one generation to another.

Eating Mandarin Oranges for Wealth

One of the must-haves during Chinese New Year (CNY) is mandarin oranges. In Cantonese, the word for Mandarin orange and gold are phonetically similar. Both are pronounced as "kam". Hence, Mandarin oranges represent wealth. When visiting relatives or friends at open house, it is also the norm to bring gifts along. The gift could include oranges. However, when giving away oranges, the number of oranges must not be odd, and usually an auspicious amount is given. Another food which can be part of the gift is groundnuts.

Festive Decorations: Chinese Lanterns

Chinese lanterns are hanged outside homes.

Chinese lanterns are hanged outside homes.

Fish Represents Abundance

During Chinese New Year, fish is also usually served. The Chinese word for fish sounds similar to the Chinese word for abundance. Thus, fish is always one of the dishes served at lunch or dinner during Chinese New Year. When eating fish with other Chinese people, if possible do not overturn the fish. This is traditionally a bad omen and those who believe this, especially the older generation would not like it.

Modern Festive Decorations - Tree of Wealth


Have a Long Life With Vermicelli

Vermicelli is a type of noodles which is thin and long. The length represents longevity. At home, on the first morning of Chinese New Year, my mother would usually prepare the noodles for breakfast. It would be our first meal in the new Lunar Year. For those who are vegetarian, you can pair the noodles with vegetables. For those who are not, you can add meat.

Toss Yeesang!

The yeesang is a mish-mash of different types of food including raw fish, vegetables and spices. As there are lots of different ingredients, the dish looks colourful and is very appetizing. This dish did not originate from China but was created by the ethnic Chinese located in the South East Asian countries of Malaysia and Singapore.

As family members or friends share this dish, they will toss the ingredients as high as possible. The higher you toss, the more abundance you will receive. The yeesang used to be eaten only on the seventh day of Chinese New Year, which is considered as everyone's birthday. Now, restaurants start serving yeesang even before the Lunar New Year.

Red Flower Motif for Chinese New Year


Collecting Angpows

Before CNY, there is always lots of spring cleaning to do. Festive decoratons such as lanterns would also be hung around the house. Another must-have is angpow or red packets, be it giving or receiving. Children especially, would look forward to receiving these red packets from their parents and other married relatives as the angpows would contain a sum of money. Before receiving these angpows, the receivers will wish the givers with an auspicious phrase.

Scroll to Continue

Chinese New Year is a great time to taste lots of delicious food and to collect some extra pocket money but the most important point of CNY is still the opportunity to spend time together as a family to celebrate the coming of the new Lunar year.

Modern Lantern


Learn more about Chinese culture and food at...


lilian_sg (author) from Singapore on September 29, 2012:

Thanks for commenting! I'm glad you found the hub useful =)

Marianne Kellow from SE Thailand on September 29, 2012:

Lovely hub and really interesting as we have a wonderful Chinese/Thai family who celebrate Chinese New Year with us. Now I understand some of the dishes and their significance!

lilian_sg (author) from Singapore on January 26, 2012:

Thanks Debbie for commenting! I'm glad you found this interesting!

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on January 25, 2012:

Great hub.. I was just watching on TV about Chinese New Year. I didn't know all this on the food though. Great Information.


Related Articles