Among many Chinese New Year traditions, having a lavish feast with family on New Year’s Eve is considered an essential part of the celebration.
There are slight variations, however, in terms of what’s on the table depending on which part of China you are from.
For example, in Northern China, it’s almost impossible to miss dumplings on the dinner table. People might even sneak in a gold coin or other lucky object in one of the dumplings. So those who end up eating the dumpling with gold coin is considered to have good luck in the new year. In the South, people usually have hot pot, along with a variety of dishes.
Nevertheless, there are a few dishes that are enjoyed all around the country.
First, is the fish dish, or Nian Nian You Yu (年年有鱼/余). It’s a play on words. Fish in Mandarin sounds the same as “left over”. So the idea is not to eat all of the dish but to leave some leftover on the plate. People do that so they will have an abundant new year, and more than enough to eat, use and save.
Another dish you can’t miss is Nian Gao (年糕/高) or Rice Cakes. It’s what you eat if you want to get a bigger paycheck or a promotion in the new year. Gao means high, or raise. The dish’s name is people’s wish for having high achievements in the new year.
In many parts of China, to finish off the feast, you will be served a dessert soup called Tang Yuan, (汤圆)or sweet glutinous rice balls. Yuan means roundness, and reunion. The dish represents harmony and family reunions.