Top 5 Dishes for Your (Approximate) Chinese New Year

Give meaning to the year's eating with these 5 holiday ingredients


American food's pretty low on culinary symbolism (six foot hoagie=longevity?). Clearly, we could learn a lot from Chinese New Year.  

On February 10, Chinese families everywhere will celebrate the Year of the Snake with elaborate meals. The idea isn’t abundance for its own sake (that's Thanksgiving), but consuming dishes imbued with symbolic meaning. (Interesting aside: I have yet to encounter a food of Chinese New Year that represents “lose 5 pounds.” You’ll see a lot more “health” and “wellness” symbolism than “may you deprive yourself of refined carbs in the coming year.”)

So read on, not for an authentic culinary tour of Chinese New Year—you can find that elsewhere, ideally in home-cooked form—but for a glimpse at some ingredients and ideas that just might change the way you look at food, all year long.

Chinese New Year Image via Shutterstock


Chinese New Year foods are often served because their names sound like the word for something pretty awesome. The word for pomelo—grown in China for centuries—just so happens to sound like the word for “to have,” suggesting abundance. In culinary terms, pomelo is actually great granddaddy to grapefruit, with a pith layer as fat as a football helmet and sweeter, less acidic flesh, making it a softer complement to Cognac (a recent Chinese favorite) and gingery Domaine de Canton in this "lucky" cocktail. Pick up pomelos in Asian or Latin American groceries (or online) for this refreshing way to start your Approximate Chinese New Year (and, as per the recipe, a play off of a popular high-end Chinese banquet cocktail).


Find the Recipe Here


Because they’re shaped roughly like ingots, an early form of gold or silver Chinese currency that's come to symbolize wealth (as per this spot-on YouTube video), dumplings symbolize fortune in finance. They also symbolize family unity, after the northern Chinese tradition of preparing and consuming dumplings as a family at midnight on New Year’s Eve. You’ll need a steamer for this recipe, and lots of aromatic ingredients like leeks, green onions, sake and—of course—pork. But this is probably the only assembly-intensive recipe on our menu, and the results are well worth it.


Find the Recipe Here


Noodles symbolize longevity, so serving them to your Chinese New Year guests isn’t just a way of saying “hey, I hope you enjoy this delicious recipe,” but “hey, I hope you live a bunch longer after you eat it.” The recipe has the added bonus of including peanuts, which also symbolize long life, in addition to being just damn delicious. It’ll call on your pantry a bit, but investing in items like sesame oil and five spice powder will open up your flavor repertoire.


Find the Recipe Here

Whole Fish

The Mandarin word for fish (yu) also sounds like the word for abundance, or surplus, so finding fish on a Chinese New Year’s table isn’t uncommon. It tends to come at the end of the meal, typically whole, and for our purposes, this phenomenon isn’t hard to approximate—nay, totally recreate!—at home. The recipe gives you your choice of fish (go with what’s freshest), seasoned and stuffed with lime slices, given a quick turn on the grill, and finished with bright, fresh herbs like basil and cilantro. Especially for those of us accustomed to fillets, serving fish whole will make a more powerful mealtime statement. 


Find the Recipe Here


Like noodles, peanuts symbolize longevity. Many Chinese New Year celebrations call for traditional Chinese peanut cookiesfah pang sang—made with ground peanuts instead of peanut butter, yielding, some say, an even better crumb. But, in true Approximate Chinese New Year form, we’re delivering peanut-longevity in another purist’s vehicle: brittle. This recipe takes the salty-sweet template of the classic and grafts on a layer of heat, courtesy of red and black pepper.


Find the Recipe Here

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  • UMMM "American food's pretty low on culinary symbolism (six foot hoagie=longevity?). Clearly, we could learn a lot from Chinese New Year." This is super insulting and I am unsubscribing from your newsletter. This is why.

    Feb 05, 2013 at 12:24 PM

  • Snooth User: Emily Bell
    1177900 519

    Sorry Angelfish - meant no real insult, just making a silly joke! Clearly it offended, will avoid same in future. Apologies, sincerely.

    Feb 05, 2013 at 12:34 PM

  • I got the same message as angelfish420 did ... i am not unsubscribing, but we as an American culture are discouraging tradition and disassembling the associated sybolism through political corrective actions and reactions. The best thing we could learn from the Chinese New Year is that it is okay to be proud of your country. I googled your six foot hoagie comment and nowhere could I find a reference to longevity.

    Feb 05, 2013 at 4:02 PM

  • Hi All! I believe that the writer was going for a light, self-reflective comment on American cuisine as we relate it to our own culture..which is, of course, not necessarily grounded in symbolism associated with wellness! Surely the comment about the hoagie=longevity was not to be taken literally. As an American who celebrates Chinese New Year each year with my family, I can appreciate the writer's lighthearted comparison of the cultures and cuisine. Well done, Ms. Bell!

    Feb 05, 2013 at 7:09 PM

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