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Five must-haves for lunar New Year reunion dinner

Editor: Zhang Jianfeng 丨Xinhua

01-16-2020 16:12 BJT

The most important celebration for Chinese lunar New Year is perhaps the reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve, when family members get together for good food.

To enjoy the meal, parents often get up early to buy ingredients and spend hours cooking, while sons and daughters trek in the world’s largest annual human migration known as “Spring Festival Rush” from work or study back to hometowns.

Just like turkeys on Thanksgiving, some particular dishes are must-haves on Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner table. Even though regional customs vary widely in the vast country, following are five typical dishes for the reunion dinner. Foodies, hold your drool!


Dumplings are the favorite of northern Chinese for many reasons. On the one hand, they’re tasty. On the other hand, they look like gold ingots. By eating them people wish more treasure will come in.

When making dumplings, many families use several particular kinds of vegetables to go with meat for the filling because the Chinese words for these vegetables sound similar to some auspicious phrases.

For example, cabbage sounds like “a hundred kinds of treasures.” Celery sounds like “diligence” and green onion “cleverness.”

In some places, people would randomly stuff things like coins or candies with the filling in some dumplings. Anyone who eats the dumpling with a coin in it is believed to make a fortune in the New Year. With a candy in it? Enjoy a sweet life!


Fish is essential for the reunion dinner menu because the Chinese word for fish, “yu,” is a homophone for “leftover” or “surplus.” The fish is even deliberately left over and stored overnight for the New Year’s Day in some places. People believe such a custom would bring them financial surplus every year.

There are various ways to cook a fish. Steamed fish is a classic Cantonese recipe. Sweet and sour fish is popular in Shanghai. Braised fish is a specialty in East China’s Jiangsu and Anhui provinces.

In southern China, the fish must be served as a whole. Turning the fish over on the plate is a taboo. People prefer to pull the flesh beneath the fish with chopsticks.


Chinese like to eat round food because the Chinese word for “round” also means reunion. Two kinds of round food are typical recipes for the reunion dinner: meatballs and Tangyuan.

Pearl Meatballs is a classic dish in central China’s Hubei Province. Roll seasoned ground pork into balls, and then roll them in the soaked glutinous rice to coat completely. After steaming, the meatballs look like pearls and taste delicious but not greasy.

Tangyuan is a traditional Chinese dessert made from glutinous rice flour mixed with water to form balls and is cooked in boiling water. Sesame paste is the most common filling.

Another typical dessert for lunar New Year is Niangao, or New Year Cake. It is also made from glutinous rice and implies promotion and improvement year after year.


Hot pot is absolutely the best comfort in the cold weather during lunar New Year. It’s perhaps the most social way of dining as people gather around one table cooking and sharing the food in a shared pot.

People from different parts of China eat different hot pots. Lamb is a popular choice in colder northern China, while mouth-numbing and spicy broth is the key to hot pot in southwest China’s Sichuan and Chongqing.


“No chicken, no feast.” That’s a saying in Hong Kong, Macao and south China’s Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan. To local folks, the best chicken recipe is Cantonese White-cut Chicken.

As the name suggests, the dish is a poached whole chicken, chopped up and served with minced ginger and scallions. But the secret to make a delicious white-cut chicken is to get a freshly killed chicken instead of a frozen one. And a cold bath for the chicken immediately after poaching makes the flesh firm and the skin crispy.

Wish you a yummy Chinese New Year!

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