Predominantly celebrated in Asian countries, Lunar New Year is the celebration of the first new moon of the lunar calendar, as opposed to the Western Gregorian calendar. Lasting about a week, the Chinese New Year honors the respective animal in the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle. This year, the holiday falls on February 12 to ring in the year of ox.
Although the holiday is typically extravagantly celebrated with much fanfare through community festivals and family dinners, this year’s celebrations might look a bit different as we adhere to the appropriate safety and health protocols. We must take the proper precautions to keep our loved ones safe and to ensure we can all live the prosperous and healthy life the Lunar New Year honors. Even without the boisterous gatherings that fill households and parade the streets, families can find ways to celebrate the meaning of the holiday. One of those is through the symbolic foods, which may differ based on one’s culture and family. Being half Chinese half Filipino, we personally celebrate Chinese New Year with a nice Filipino spin on many of the dishes. I’ll be talking about my favorite dishes to enjoy this time of year.
Lunar New Year also coincides with Spring Festival in China, so it’s only fitting that we eat some crisp, fresh spring rolls. They are supposed to look like gold bars to symbolize wealth. We normally have lumpia shanghai, Filipino spring rolls that are smaller and are made of a savory meat mixture. China Sichuan Food has a simple recipe for another traditional spring roll.
Just the thought of the infinite possibilities of dumpling shapes and fillings fills me with joy – and hopefully more wealth, if the spring rolls didn’t do the trick. The traditional moon-shaped Chinese dumplings with their distinct pleats are meant to represent money bags. And, maybe the more stuffed they are, the more stuffed your pockets are… just a thought. I love all kinds of fillings, from shrimp to pork and cabbage to chicken and cilantro. If you want a classic pork dumpling, you can’t go wrong with this recipe.
Filipinos love their fish, so I’m glad we can enjoy it for our Chinese celebration as well. A simply steamed whole fish served with fried garlic, toyomansi (soy sauce and the citrus, calamansi) and white rice celebrates the clean freshness of the dish. The pronunciation of fish in Chinese means “surplus,” so hopefully that heralds in extra good tidings for us this year.
We eat noodles at every special occasion, as their long length symbolizes longevity, aka, long life. Like dumplings, I marvel at the infinite ways in which we can enjoy noodles. We usually eat the Filipino pancit canton or bihon, made with either egg or rice noodles, but this recipe for Shanghai Fried Noodles from The Woks of Life caught my eye, as the dish is a favorite of my father’s when we’re in Chinatown. (I also love a bunch of other recipes from their website!)
Buchi is a Filipino adaptation of the classic Chinese sesame ball, but it’s pretty much the same fried, doughy, chewy goodness. The nuttiness of the sesame seed coating cuts through any oiliness while the red bean paste kicks up the sweetness without getting too sweet (as any Asian mother would say). I’ve never made them before, however, maybe this year is the time. I’ll use this recipe from The Spruce Eats if I gather the motivation to make them once I remember we can’t just pull up to a family party where there’d be a tray waiting for me.
Other foods to enjoy for Lunar New Year: round fruits, nian gao (sweet glutinous rice cake), Lion’s Head meatballs, young chow fried rice