Chinese New Year food guide: traditional foods & dinner customs

Posted · 28th January 2019
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What is Chinese new year & when is it?

Chinese New Year is the first day of the new year in the Chinese calendar. The reason it differs from the calendar we use here in the UK – AKA, the Gregorian calendar – is because the Chinese calendar runs according to the moon. This is why this time of year is also known as Lunar New Year, or spring festival. Since the the Lunar New Year is dependant on the moon, this means that the specific dates can vary year on year.

In 2019, Chinese New Year officially begins on the 5th of February and ends on the 19th. However, what we love about the Chinese festivities is that actually, they begin celebrating before the new year itself with what’s called ‘Little Year’ and end everything with something called the ‘Lantern Festival’! It’s a grand occasion about family and new beginnings – much of which is centered around togetherness which, of course, features food as a prominent way of sharing.

Chinese new year dinner customs

Which meals are most important

The most important meal in the entire festive period of Chinese New Year is the new year eve reunion dinner. This is usually where you will find a list of lucky and traditional food, we’ve taken the time to outline these below; but you’ll usually find a mixture of fish, dumplings, noodles and of course tofu – which traditionally symbolises happiness and fortune for the entire family. It’s customary to have a large buffet style table of foods where a seating arrangement has been decided by family elders.

Superstitions and manners

If you decide to celebrate a traditional Chinese New Year, you may find yourself having many different family meals. For this reason, it’s important to understand the manners and superstitions that come with group meals! Firstly, avoid talking about death or failure, this is a big no-no. It’s also good to keep in mind that it’s seen as unlucky to drop dishes or chopsticks and if an accident does happen, be sure to immediately say “sui sui ping an”, which means “everlasting peace year after year”. Another tip is to be aware that finishing your plate in Chinese culture usually insinuates that you are still hungry – so if you are indeed full and don’t wish to have more food thrust upon you, it’s wise to leave some food on the plate!

Traditional Chinese new year food

1. Dumplings

In Chinese, dumplings (jiǎo zi) quite literally means midnight exchange and is commonly thought to be the exchange between the old and the new, which makes them the perfect food to eat on the a new year celebration! We have a delicious vegetarian dumpling recipe that uses our vegetarian Lincolnshire Sausages- so no matter your dietary requirements, you’ll be able to see in Chinese New Year the traditional way.

2. Noodles

Noodles are a classic Chinese New Year dish as they symbolise longevity. Traditionally in Chinese culture, noodles are called cháng shòu miàn, which means ‘longevity noodles’. The longer the noodle, the longer your life is believed to be and so cutting them or biting them with your teeth when eating is actually frowned upon! Luckily, we have many vegetarian and vegan noodle dishes that taste so great you’ll be fine about slurping them up.

Cauldron’s favourite Chinese recipes

1. Vegan hot & sour tofu soup

Perhaps you’re looking for a way to celebrate Chinese new year with a quick and easy meal? Look no further than our vegan hot and sour soup. It only takes only minutes to prepare so perfect for lunch or dinner. It also makes a lovely addition to a Chinese New Year menu and is the perfect appetiser to any celebration meal.

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2. Shiitake mapo tofu

Shiitake and tofu are a match made in heaven, and when paired together for this spicy dish you’ll have the perfect recipe for celebrations in the winter! You can adjust the chilli heat for your own personal taste but whatever you do, your tastebuds will feel the full force of Chinese cuisine. Serve with sticky rice and garnish with Sichuan pepper and spring onions for extra flare.

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3. Scrambled tofu rice

Egg-fried rice is always a staple of Chinese cuisine, but did you know that you can enjoy a completely dairy-free style of rice like this too? Our scrambled tofu rice is a perfect replacement; it’s the same in texture, meaning it goes perfect with any other accompaniment while also being fully protein-packed.

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4. Vegan Satay Stir Fry

Although not technically a Chinese dish, since its origins lie mainly in Indonesia, satay is an extremely popular dish and often eaten across Asia. It may be perfect for those looking to try out a more fusion-inspired Chinese New Year, or are looking for a hearty and vegan dish to feast upon during the celebrations.

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5. Salt & Pepper Tofu

Salt and pepper anything is always a firm family favourite on every Chinese takeaway menu in the UK, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a healthy and delicious homemade dish too! Not only will this crispy recreation be whipped up in 10 minutes, but it’s also vegan! Win, win.

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What is the Chinese zodiac and what is your zodiac animal?

Unlike in Western culture the Chinese zodiac represent years as opposed to months, but is still represented by 12 different labels and is represented by 12 different animals. Contrary to popular believe, your zodiac year isn’t actually thought to be lucky. According to Chinese astrology, people in their animal year are said to offend Tai Sui, the God of Age, and is thought to bring nothing but bad luck!

Having said that, if you are superstitious, there are plenty of ways to ensure your year is lucky. Some of these include wearing red and wearing jade accessories, others even involve adjusting your position so that you face away from Tai Sui – all of which are different depending on the year.

Download our free printable Chinese Cook Book

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