The Symbolism of Chinese New Year Foods

January 27, 2017

The Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in Taiwan and it falls on January 28th this year. It is the time when families get together and celebrate. The New Year's Eve dinner is usually the most bountiful one, and just like other holidays around the world, food plays an essential role in the celebration. The dinner table is filled with delicious dishes, each one carrying important symbolism.



The shape of dumplings is similar to the shape of ancient money; the gold ingot. Eating dumplings means that good fortune and wealth will come to the family.

Hot Pot


The Symbolism of Chinese New Year Foods - 1

We call the New Year's Eve dinner "圍爐 (Wei Lu)," which literally means that everyone gathers around the pot. Traditionally, people will put a fire stove under the table when having the New Year's Eve dinner. Nowadays we put a hot pot, a traditional type of stew, on the dinner table. There is no better way to celebrate the New Year than having hot pot on a cold winter's day with beloved family. The boiling hot pot symbolizes a prosperous new year.



The pronunciation of fish (yu) is the same as the pronunciation of abundance or surplus. Therefore, eating fish is a way to wish everyone an abundant year! However, the fish course cannot to be fully finished. The leftover fish serves as a symbol of surplus. We say "年年有餘 (nian nian you yu )," which means every year we hope for a surplus.



Chicken and family in Taiwanese are homonyms. Having a whole chicken on the dinner table is a symbol of having the whole family together. Also, the pronunciation of "吃雞 (chiah ke)," which means "eat chicken" is similar to the pronunciation of "起家 (khi ke,)" which means "start a family."



In ancient times, any type of meat was extremely precious and would only be served at New Year's Eve dinner. Meat is always a "must have" at the New Year's Eve dinner. Furthermore, pig(豬) has the same pronunciation as all(諸) in Chinese - zhu. Eating pork symbolize "諸事大吉 (zhu shi da ji)," which means everything will be a success!

Rice Cake


The Symbolism of Chinese New Year Foods - 2

We call rice cake "年糕 (nian gao)" in Chinese, which means New Year's cake. "糕(cake)" and "高 (high)" share the same pronunciation. Eating rice cake symbolizes that each year you will achieve higher. We also say "步步高升 (bu bu gao sheng)," which mean step by step you will get higher, to wish people advancement in their career, studies or life.

Radish/Radish Cake


Radish in Taiwanese "菜頭(cai tou)" sounds the same as "彩頭(cǎi tóu)," which means good fortune. Serving radish or radish cake to the family is a way of wishing them luck for the upcoming year.

Leek and Long Year Vegetable


Vegetables cannot be missed at the dinner table. Leek (jiu cai) and mustard greens (we call them long year vegetables) symbolize "長長久久 (chang chang jiu jiu)." "長長久久" means a very, very long time; wishing people longevity. When eating the long year vegetables, you are supposed to finish the vegetables in one bite, because the vegetables represent your life and you don't want to cut if off.



It can take hours to eat the New Year's Eve dinner. People say that one must take time to enjoy the food at the dinner, because it also shows how you cherish all the good memories you have for the previous year. And then tomorrow, it will be a new year and a new adventure begins again!


Happy Chinese New Year!


Cultural Resources from GPI


You may gain further insight into country specific cultural facts and related topics by reviewing some previous blogs written by GPI:



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  • Taylor BishopOn Apr 06, Taylor Bishop said:
    Thanks for helping me learn more about Chinese new year foods. I actually didn't know that having a whole chicken at the dinner table is suppose to symbolize having the whole family together. I'm kind of interested to learn if it needs to be prepared in a certain way or if it's just important to have a whole chicken for this symbolism.
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Marina is a native Spanish speaker from Rosario, Argentina with over 15 years’ experience as a certified English-Spanish translator and interpreter. She graduated with a dual degree in Technical-Scientific and Literary Translation and Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpreting from the Instituto de Educación Superior Olga Cossettini in Rosario. She has extensive experience with most well known CAT tools including the range of SDL tools such as SDL Trados Studio, MultiTerm, Wordfast, SDL Idiom WorldServer, Translation Workspace, XBench, etc. She has also served as a CAT Tool Instructor conducting an average of 50 courses and workshops for many associations, private institutes and conferences. Over the years she has provided Spanish language translation and interpreting for a multitude of translation agencies, Global Fortune 500 companies, Governments and NGO’s. When not working she enjoys traveling, cooking, reading and movies with her family.