Dragon dances and bright red lanterns under massive fireworks—Taiwan brims with colors and crowds during its Lunar New Year celebration. But at the center of these Chinese New Year traditions is what truly bridges culture and people, and that’s food! If you’re in Taiwan in February to celebrate with the locals, here are the Lunar New Year specialties you can try:
The most popular Chinese New Year food is fish, which is cooked in various ways but comes with rules to follow if you want to remain lucky throughout the year. But don’t worry, these customs are observed in a light-hearted spirit.
Before you dig into Chinese fish dishes like steamed weever, steamed fish in vinegar sauce, and West Lake fish with pickled cabbage, know that you should not finish eating all the fish. Why? Leaving some on the table means getting a lot of everything for the coming year.
On a Chinese table, you will notice that the fish has certain positions. The head of the fish is facing elders or important guests to show respect. Only after they eat the fish first can you enjoy the fish. You may also want to stay still because it is a rule that the fish must not be moved. The two diners who face the head and tail of fish are encouraged to drink together.
The main types of Chinese fish you will likely encounter during the Lunar New Year celebration because they would bring you good fortune for next year are Crucian carp, Chinese mud carp, and catfish.
Zhu Jiao Mian Xian
Be fueled on the first day of the New Year by Zhu Jiao Mian Xian, a popular Taiwanese dish made of pig knuckle with vermicelli noodles. Eating this dish means wishing for longevity. Pigs were also seen as a sign of wealth before and pork dishes have always represented prosperity.
Have a bite of Chinese dumplings to achieve prosperity for the New Year. These dumplings are shaped like a gold ingot, which is perceived as a symbol of luck. Wrapped in dough skin, Chinese dumplings are made of minced meat and vegetables. Sometimes they are mixed with shrimp, beef, fish, and minced pork. Dumplings are cooked through steaming, boiling, frying, or baking.
It is a tradition for some Chinese to put a white thread inside a dumpling, and anyone who eats it will enjoy longevity. You may also find dumplings arranged in lines because there is a belief that circles of dumplings may hint that life will go round in circles.
Spring rolls are sumptuous rolls fried and filled with meat and vegetables. They are wrapped in dough wrappers. Eating spring rolls usually signifies the arrival of spring, while the rolls that are yellowish or light gold symbolize wealth. Spring rolls are called “Chun Juan” in Chinese and the lucky saying for eating them is “Hwung-Jin Wan-Lyang”, which means “a ton of gold.”
Grab some Nian Gao! These are deep-fried sticky rice cakes that are served as a dessert. The words ‘Nian Gao’ share the meaning of “each year higher.” This means the current year will be better than the previous one. This lucky Chinese food is made of sticky rice, chestnuts, sugar, lotus leaves, and Chinese dates.
What you won’t miss during the Lunar New Year celebration in Taiwan are longevity needles. These noodles are longer than regular ones and are served either fried or boiled in a bowl with their broth. Long noodles symbolize longevity.
If you shouldn’t finish eating an entire fish, then it’s the opposite with chicken. The chicken served at the table during Chinese New Year should be consumed completely. Chicken represents the gathering or union of the family. New Year celebrations revolve around family reunions.
Served fresh or as a cake, pineapple is a hit during Chinese New Year. The fruit symbolizes wealth and prosperity. The Hokkien pronunciation for pineapple, “Ong La,” means “prosperity coming.”
You can order pineapple cakes from Chia Te Bakery, one of the most popular pineapple cake bakeries in Taiwan. Place your orders here.
Kumquats or oranges
Oranges are popular during the Lunar New Year because their color is similar to gold, which signifies luck. This makes it a great fruit to give to locals during the holiday.
Other fruits you’ll find common in Chinese New Year celebrations are pomelos and tangerines. Eating or displaying these fruits are believed to be associated with good fortune because of their color and pronunciation.
If you’re going to Taiwan for the Lunar New Year celebration, avoid the hassle of public commute and enjoy unlimited train travel on the Taiwan THSR network. Book your High-Speed Rail Unlimited Pass today!
*Featured image from Boonroom Sae-Kor